Lamb in Different Forms….

As I’ve mentioned before, I did not grow up with lamb as a food in the Deep South. I would have read about it books I’m sure and I suppose you could get it in the big city of Shreveport although I never heard anyone mention it. Although I did have a number of different things during my time in France, lamb was not one of them, nor did I have it when I was in my first few years in the Army. I was in Maine with my first husband’s family for Easter so of course it was roast leg of lamb with mint jelly. I was pleasantly surprised even though it wasn’t like I enjoyed it to the point of deciding we should routinely add it to the menu. It seems as if Italy was where we began to see lamb more often in restaurants and have access at the commissary (military grocery stores). Roasting was still the common way to prepare because Hubby was deprived of a grill until we were later assigned to Hawaii. Once again, lamb was not exactly a staple on the island. Being in the Washington, D.C. area was where it was plentiful and grilled lamb chops became the fall back. It really is much quicker than roasting a leg.

A few years ago, Hubby got the idea to use lamb shoulder as a substitute for veal in Osso Bucco because the store hardly ever has veal shanks. It works remarkably well and we always have broth and veggies left over as well as some lamb. That’s when I make a soup adding in another meat; often chicken, turkey, or sausage. We haven’t used ground lamb for anything, mostly because we have it often enough in other forms. When the kids come to visit, we make a point to do lamb chops since daughter-in-law loves them and son can’t bring himself to eat lamb. He acknowledges that dates back to enjoying the cute little lambs that belonged to one of the neighbors who lived close to his grandparents in Maine.

Busy Weekends……

The next two weekends will be especially busy. Today is Military Appreciation Day with a four-hour event downtown. Hubby always covers it for the paper if he isn’t working because it’s another of the photo-heavy kind of things. I am at the museum since we often get extra visitors and we might have to be open a little later. There are military vehicles and other equipment on display; speeches to be done of course, music and I’m not sure what all activities for families. The potential rain seems to be holding off although it is over 90 degrees. Needless to say, we will not be cooking tonight. Our friends aren’t available to join us for dinner so the plan is carryout from Sonny’s BBQ.

The International Orchid Festival is going on in another place; an amazing event that brings growers from as far away as Thailand (if they are coming this year). The array is incredible and brings plenty of people in. Next weekend is no better as we have the Art in the Park that will be an evening/nighttime event for the first time. That is directly related to the heat and that also means I’ll have to cover the museum at least a few extra hours. There will be lots of activities and some new things they have planned so we’ll see what the reaction is to those. There are some recurring favorites and individual artists or groups can be quite creative when coming up with ideas. If I wasn’t going to be in the museum, I would be partly involved in an activity. If Hubby is available next week, he’ll get some “cute kids” photos as I already wrote an article a few weeks ago to encourage people to volunteers or participate in some other way. If we cover the story beforehand, a photo spread with enhanced captions as the follow-up.

An Easy Menu…..

Mother’s Day was pleasant with only a little work involved. Hubby had the weekend off for a change which doesn’t happen often and as I mentioned, we don’t go out for the classic brunch or lunch on those holidays. We do a nice dinner at home. For reasons I’m not clear about, I was wanting lobster even though it isn’t our season yet. The Canadian lobster tails the Publix carries are okay for some things, but not for what I had in mind. Hubby suggested I go by Sprouts and they did have a frozen brand I wasn’t familiar with. It’s Luke’s of Saco, Maine and the tails are already split with a chunk of season butter included. My plan was to have shrimp Everglades napoleons as the first course, then lobster with tomatoes Provencale and whatever other side Hubby wanted. Salad of course and dessert that I would buy, not make.

The only thing I couldn’t find was the phyllo dough in small squares; all they had were the big sheets and I wasn’t going to battle with that. I did find an Italian crisp bread that looked very much like sheets of phyllo that I thought would work. The Everglades sauce is the one I’ve posted before with shallots and capers done with infused olive oil, key lime juice, rum, and butter. Cooking the shallots slowly in olive oil is key, then add everything else. Let that cook for 2-3 minutes, then add the shrimp with a little more liquid if needed for 3-5 minutes. Place one piece of crisp on a plate, half the shrimp, another crisp, rest of the shrimp and pour the sauce on top. (Okay, this is my version; there are others).

Anyway, from a cooking perspective, the lobster was in a 400 degree oven for 7 minutes which also worked for the tomatoes and Hubby was having leftover broccoli-cheese rice. In other words, right after I plated the first course, everything went into the oven and the re-heating the rice was quick in the microwave. Oh, champagne to drink naturally.

I had picked up a small chocolate cake, small lemon cake and two chocolate covered strawberries at Publix for dessert. It was all lovely and Hubby has dessert for the rest of the week.

Guarded Optimism…..

We have been waiting for some months now for the Redland Hotel and City Hall Bistro to reopen in Homestead. It is a historic building and repeated attempts at restaurants have failed for a variety of reasons. Because of the different hats I wear, I’ve been talking with the new owner and his son who will be the on-site restaurant oversight. The hotel part – 13 rooms – has a high occupancy because it is the only hotel of its type and that appeals to a certain type of traveler. The refurbished rooms are done well. Although not spacious, they have all the basics and the redecorating is stylish.

The bar and restaurant have finally been done correctly in an appealing, sophisticated way and everyone is impressed. The new owner is getting to know people within the community and at this point, I am guardedly optimistic. The ambience is first rate, the food quite good, the presentation lovely, and so far the service is good. Prices are definitely high end and while people understand the level of renovation comes at a price, there are a few issues that could tilt sustainability. I won’t go into them because a) they may yet be resolved, and b) with the growth in the area, there may be enough new people who don’t view these factors as issues. Going into the historically slow season of summer though generally means the year-round residents will allow a place to sustain. This is true with any seasonal community and while we don’t have quite the swing in population of say places that close down in off-season, there is a definite drop in population.

We have not met the chef who is leasing the bar and restaurant, but I have heard he (might be a she) is highly experienced. The cuisine is a mix of American and Latin with a few other items thrown in. For example, among the appetizers are bang-bang shrimp (spicy or plain), tostones topped with shrimp, loaded nachos, sliders, tuna tartar; smoke fish dip and a few more. There is a similar combination for entrees.

As I say, we shall see.

Disney Trip, Day 5………

Not surprisingly our last parks day was the same mostly ups with some discomfort downs due to heat and crowds. The wait times were better as we added in the extra cost for Thursday and Friday to access things more quickly. This required use of the mobile app, scheduling, and things I had to leave to daughter-in-law, son, and Hubby to work out. We did start with the classic “Pirates of the Caribbean” and there was a wonderful “Swiss Family Robinson Tree House” as a walk-through event. A couple of mild rides and preceded a quick lunch, then a visit with two princesses in Princess Hall. Another plan was interrupted as the heat and distance got to granddaughter and we diverted into the air-conditioned Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor. It was cute. The desire for a tiara topped other ideas as the previously unknown desire was of course back where we had started with the puzzle of what granddaughter was talking about, and her not quite remembering where they were. It did get resolved with a lot more walking and looking. Along the way though was part of a show in front of the Castle with more characters to include more princesses and of music and dancing. Then there was the encounter with another princess for an autograph. With tiara kiosk located and chose made, we sent the kids off to have at least a little alone time. In making our way back to the resort, there wasn’t pool time because we had earlier dinner reservations.

This was back at Animal Kingdom to be at Tusker House in the African section and a Character dinner. Unknown to granddaughter, we had tried and been unable to book the one we wanted for her with princesses, and since we weren’t sure how this one would go, we didn’t say anything to her before. We arrived early enough to go through a couple of spots we’d missed Thursday. Dinner was a buffet with a huge selection, plenty of meats, potatoes, and vegetables with appropriate spices and naan plus other breads. There were some dishes available for the unadventurous and the dessert table did not disappoint. I didn’t go near it, but did take one small bite of a terrific brownie. The characters were the Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Donald and Daisy Duck and Goofy in their safari outfits. They each came to each table for hugs and photos. There was a group autographed card provided to each child rather than the kind of time it would take to do that at each table.

Oh, I forgot to explain. Princess dress had been the attire for the day – you see lots of those worn – and the tiara was added for dinner. This had replaced the previous days wearing of decorative mouse ears. By the way, I had no idea there were so many types of mouse ear headbands/hats that existed. We’re all going to breakfast soon, then it’s pack up and get the kids on the way to the airport as we hope for no issues on the turnpike..

Disney Trip, Day 5…..

Okay, yesterday was multiple adventures as we went to Animal Kingdom, then to the fancy Chefs de France at Epcot for dinner. We only did one of the major items at the Park – the Safari – as the others had such incredibly long lines. The Safari was excellent though in riding slowly through different sections and except for one, we did see the expected animals. At the very beginning of the park there was a kids booklet with different “badges” to get while in the park and the rangers were great interacting with the kids. There was the Gorillas Mist Trail as a walking piece in addition to the ride. After a quick fast food lunch, there was a great “The Boneyard” set up with different activities. “Discoveries”, stairs within “scaffolding”, cargo net bridges, and slides were all involved. Very hot again, so by 2:00ish, it was time to head back. I thought a nap might be in order, however, the desire for pool time won out.

There are actually two fireworks displays each night. The biggest is the Magic Kingdom, but Epcot has one, too. We didn’t say anything to granddaughter as we weren’t sure how that would work out. Daughter-in-law booked the French restaurant because it was close to the spot. With our timing though it was going to be tricky. She was on the last few bites of her ratatouille with quinoa when they started so she took granddaughter out as Hubby finished his steak au poivre and swapped places outside. Son and I stayed inside finishing my steak au poivre and his beef bourguignon. Everyone was back in for dessert. My indulgence for the trip was chocolate tart with vanilla ice cream. Hubby had creme brulee, son assorted sorbet and a madelain, daughter-in-law a lovely citrus cake with a raspberry ganache. Vanilla ice cream for granddaughter although of course it was special ice cream. The place was lovely and our waitress was utterly French with a charming accent.

On to Magic Kingdom today.


Disney Trip Day 4…….

Extra long post. I want to take time to brag about son and daughter-in-law. For those who have never dealt with a child who is placed in uncomfortable physical situations or those who may have forgotten, children have to reach a certain age before they can manage extreme tiredness, aching body parts, etc. As I did mention, we were aware coming to Disney during Spring Break would be super crowded and there was the aspect of being at a resort where we have to to take transport to all the others. That means all mornings and certain other times there are lines and crowds on the SkyLink and busses. The point is granddaughter is prone to the whiney, “I want this to stop” natural for her age. The kids do a great job of managing that by taking certain precautions that do require a level of logistics and good parenting, and some accommodation. Yesterday was perhaps the best example. It was their day for a little “date time” as son had his “Build Your Own Light Saber” work shop. (I’m not kidding.) The intent was for all of us to be up early, go over and we would take granddaughter in one direction while they went the other. We had the late night Tues, so granddaughter didn’t want o get up that early. I had suspected that and told them not to worry. So, daughter-in-law set up necessities for the morning and as granddaughter was getting herself dressed, I took care of getting a little breakfast in her.

The delay, however, meant we missed the window of early park entrance which is one of the benefits of staying in a Disney Resort. It was also the day to go to one of the most popular parks. Long line for Skylink and when we arrived at the park, it was the only time we have encountered entry lines not managed as well as usual. We do get in to go to the “Toy Story” area and the only ride granddaughter wants to go on is the popular one with the wait already 90 minutes. She initially said that was too long, then as we walked to the end of the area, she changed her mind. We headed back and now the wait was 120 minutes. She decided it would be okay. Again, Disney does handle lines well, but it’s still a long wait and interesting dynamics are observed among others generally with the “we’re all in it together” attitude. One of the kids close by who had a bubble maker did provide a source of amusement. I think I’ve also mentioned it has been in the high 80s with yesterday at 89. So, the wait involved pacing out the cookies from the pack, sips of water, and the occasional “spritz”, plus chatting about all sorts of things. Granddaughter made it almost 1 hour and 45 minutes before the “I really am tired of waiting”, but at that point we were almost to the boarding part. Meanwhile, our first planned rendezvous with the kids had come and gone and we were resetting by text. The ride was a fairly mild roller coaster, but granddaughter’s first. Hubby got on with her as I took all our stuff and went to the exit. The kids showed up and we caught sight of Hubby and granddaughter in the first car as the ride made the last couple of swoops. It was a success, but had taken a bit of a toll. Oh, and son’s light saber really is cool. We backtracked to see more of the Star Wars area as he went in to make arrangement for having it shipped home.

This is were the kids took over and managed the next couple of hours through lunch and a special show before coming back for pool time. Daughter-in-law did sit that one out. So now, we approach the major event of going to the Magic Kingdom for fireworks and light show at the Castle. This requires a bus ride and setting the tone for the night with having to stand the 15ish minutes trip. Next came huge crowds and wait time until the 9:00 start. I won’t get into these details, but it meant standing for about an hour, jostling for position as more and more people arrived and son doing a masterful job between occasionally picking granddaughter up and finding a narrow spot to sit with her close by as we carefully saved a spot on the edge of the growing crowd. The display was spectacular and granddaughter exhibited all the delight that makes something like this worthwhile and a memory that will last her a lifetime.

Last two words on this. The management of the busses to get that crowd of people efficiently channeled into appropriate lines and number of busses available is “magic” of a different sort; something Hubby and I can especially appreciate as former logisticians. I was sure it would be at least 10:30 before we returned, but it was right at 10:00.

So, a little later start to the morning as we head to another of the very popular parks.

Disney Day 2…..

Our first full day and I mean full. Interestingly, as it turns out, granddaughter does not want to do the rides very much, but rather meet as many characters as she can. This, too involves waiting in lines; made a bit more complicated by not being sure of where characters will be at any given time. There is an “autograph book” (they purchased of course) and yesterday it was Daisy Duck, Princess Aurora and Princess Jasmin.

It was hot and crowded and granddaughter was struggling with all the walking by the time we got way around to The Living Seas. The line for the actual aquarium – at almost 6 million gallons – was also long. We did have to wait until nearly 1:00 for our table, but the kids had each had a crepe in “France” about 10:30 and granddaughter had a gelato in “Italy” which did help. Once we sat and she saw the amazing fish, sharks, rays, and turtles swimming around as we watched from our table with a clear view, she perked up; at least for that. I had mahi; son did salmon; daughter-in-law had chicken, as did granddaughter; and Hubby had shrimp and grits. All were excellent.

Hubby did stay after to go through the aquarium and a couple of other things as we came back for the pool. Also crowded, but set up well for kids. There were large sections under four feet deep so that worked well. The late night dining is a bit on the difficult side although manageable so far and we had plenty of time to kill when we went over. That allowed time to go into a cute Muppet show, then walk through one of the Star Wars areas. The main attraction still had a 2 hour wait time at 7:30 at night. Glad we weren’t planning it. Dinner at Italian place was okay for me – an average chicken parm, Hubby’s pasta was good, but chicken overcooked. Son and daughter-in-law thoroughly enjoyed their pastas. The ciabatta rolls were right out of the oven and the season olive oil for dipping was excellent.

We have an extra early start today.

Disney, Day 1…..

If you hadn’t seen the previous post, our granddaughter was eight last month and we had let the kids know back at Christmas we could do the Disney trip for their Spring Break or summer. They opted for now and even with me trying to book in February, the better resorts we’ve stayed in in the past were already full. We are in the Pop Century which has two drawbacks from my perspective. None of the parks are within walking distance and there is no sit-down restaurant. The other issue is we have to now make reservations in advance for dinner and again, even trying to book in Feb I could only get later seatings. We’ll see how this goes.

Okay, we encountered a delay where the turnpike was closed near Fort Pierce and it took a while to shunt traffic off, through a stretch to get back on 95, then back to the Turnpike. We still made it to the resort about an 1.5 hours ahead of the kids. It’s a sprawling place although once you walk around a bit and see a few unmissable landmarks, it makes more sense. As planned, we oriented ourselves that included walking out back to see the SkyTram; like a ski lift that will take us to Epcot and Disney Hollywood Studios (today and tomorrow). We’ll have to do bus for Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom (Thursday and Friday)

The food here is food court. Granddaughter went for pizza, but didn’t care for the sauce. All us opted for burgers and they were quite generous with the fries, so she had enough between us. Then there was the Rice Krispy treat in the shape of Mickey that the three of them shared. Since we drove, we did haul up lots of beverages and snacks, to include those of the adult type. All food and beverage here is – and always has been – really expensive. It isn’t that we’re cutting any corners; we do this whenever we drive somewhere.

And off we go shortly for the first of our theme park days.

Modifying a Classic Casserole…

This isn’t quite a “duh” moment although it may be a bit close. Going back to some previous posts, I embrace the classic green bean casserole for holidays and we are big on using leftovers. So, the heavy cream I had from the last time we did steak au poivre was about to expire. Then I remembered I used only half a bag of frozen greens beans at Thanksgiving for the casserole. The remaining Durkees fried onions were in the pantry. Hubby prefers bone-in chicken breasts for grilling, but they are large and we always have a second meal – usually chicken Alfredo or cacciatore.  The classic casserole is actually high in carbs because of the amount of onions used and the cream soup. There weren’t that many onions left in the container and the cream itself is not high in carbs. Adding cheese to it would give extra body and also no carbs. Yes, I know calories and fat are in both ingredients, but that wasn’t my objective.

So, oven at 350; cut the chicken into bite-size pieces; added salt and pepper. Hubby had bought some extra shallots for some reason. Diced two of those. I was a little pressed for time since I promised to set the casserole up before I left for an afternoon event, or I would have sauteed the shallots to give them extra flavor. As it was, I put them in with the frozen green beans, used chicken broth instead of water, and cooked them in the microwave. I used a Pyrex covered dish which would then go into the oven. I used the cooking time on the bag for the green beans. Added salt and pepper, stirred everything around. Put the chicken in, poured the cream over everything – it was a little over a cup left in the box and there was some liquid in the beans from cooking, and I added shredded cheese. This was the four-cheese Italian blend I had in the fridge. I used 2/3 thirds of the bag. Since there was some extra liquid, I told Hubby to bake it uncovered for 30 minutes, then add the Durkee onions as a topping and bake for about 10 more minutes. I got home in time to manage the last part and it all worked well.