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Hearty Chicken Soup – two ways

Around the time of the Great Pittsburgh Blizzard of 2010 (mid-February) I started to get obsessed with making soup. I started with a potato soup with good results, but what I really wanted to make with a chicken vegetable soup. I found a recipe on Epicurious, but kept putting it off and putting it off and off and off and off. Why? Who knows. But when I finally made it…BAM! Magic!

The original recipe called for carrots, onions and celery, but at one point you’re supposed to strain out most of the veggies and discard them. I’m not down with that version. I wanted all my veggies. And then – tragedy! No carrots to be found! After I stopped crying, I decided to go ovaries to the wall and make it veggie-tastic.

My soup had onions, celery, potatoes, peas and green beans – all thick-cut, because I like it that way. And chicken. And rice. And I also made bread, because I felt I was not getting enough carbohydrates.

And it was FRICKING AMAZING.

Who knew?! Soup is easy and delicious! Soup is so easy that I might make it a Lazy Kitchen staple. Even a lazy cook can make good soup!

Earlier in the week (to celebrate St. Patty’s Day, but not on St. Patty’s Day because we couldn’t wait that long) my boyfriend made a boiled meal, complete with corned beef and cabbage and potatoes and carrots. We had some left over veggies and plenty of broth – which we saved, being forward-thinking folks – and tonight I made soup. For a second time!

Last time, I used some soup broth to make rice, but this time I used to to make shells. Who doesn’t love shells?! The beauty of it is that when you’re done cooking the pasta, you don’t even have to strain it – you just pour the whole kit ‘n’ kaboodle back into the pot. It’s a lazy cook’s dream.

Another change was that this time we had carrots – yay! – and I also used cut-up chicken breasts instead of shredded thighs. I left the chicken pieces pretty big, figuring if chunky veggies were delicious chunky meat probably would be too. Wrong. The big chunks are a little dry, so next time I’ll probably cut them smaller.

Again: IT WAS SO GOOD! And I don’t even care that it’s warming up outside and you’re not “supposed” to be making hearty soups anymore. It’s still cold in the apartment and so…it’s still hearty soup season here! Three cheers for hearty soup!

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Lunch at Casbah on a sunny day…

On Tuesday, I had a little conference with the owner of Vanilla (my fav pastry shop) about the prospects of me working there (and I’m so excited I could wet my pants – but in a professional, mature way) and then the boyfriend and I wandered up the road to Casbah for lunch. We’ve lived in the neighborhood, more or less, for months and have always wanted to go but never did. Until Tuesday.

The highlight of the meal, for me, was probably the bread. Oh man. OH MAN. I forgot to ask them who supplied their breads, but whoever it is…please allow me to bow at your feet. Wowza. Like I said, it was good. Really, really good.

The lunch menu is, presumably, smaller and cheaper than the dinner menu but there were still lots of choices and we both found ourselves saying, “oh, I want this one…no, this one…no, that…no, maybe this…” and then making a gut decision when the waitress stopped by. I had the BLT and he had the crab sandwich.

I forgot to take pictures until we were almost done - oops!

My BLT was pretty good – awesome bread, thick bacon, just the right amount of mayo (“aioli” is what they called it, but let’s be real…it’s mayo). The fries were pretty good, too.

A mini-annoyance: On the menu it said that they used “local tomatoes,” which struck me as weird considering I don’t think anyone local is growing tomatoes yet, but…whatever. Also, everything on that sandwich could/should be local, but if the tomatoes is all they’re willing to do that’s OK. Baby steps, Casbah.

He toughed it out and ate most of the sandwich, mayo and all.

Joe was pretty disappointed with his sandwich. It was too fishy-tasting to me (blech, seafood), but what really got him was all the mayo. He assumed (incorrectly) that it would be sort of like a crabcake sandwich and not a crab salad sandwich and his hatred of mayo is just about in proportion with my love of it, so…you can imagine. Still: really good bread, and that bites that didn’t have a ton of mayo in them he seemed to like.

We skipped dessert and went across the street to Oh Yeah! for ice cream, but it was a nice lunch for under $20 and overall a good first experience. We’ll definitely be back – who knows when, since it took us six months to get there the first time, but…eventually. Baby steps!

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Third Grade Throwback

After the Samosas Incident, I really needed to reimagine the kitchen as a soothing place, not a place of stress and frustration and total abject failure. For a couple days I stayed out of the kitchen entirely, living off leftovers (to be fair – we did have a TON of leftovers) and then finally the other night the boyfriend and I decided it was time to get back in the saddle.

I knew immediately what we’d be having for dinner that night (Dinosaur Macaroni and Cheese) and the boyfriend suggested we also add sloppy joes to the menu. I countered with canned green beans (the boy has a fondness) and pretty soon we were both 8 years old again, reliving the best meal from childhood.*

It’s important, I think, to follow up a sucky experience with a super awesome experience, and joes ‘n’ mac was definitely the way to go. Plus, we all know macaroni and cheese tastes better when it’s in fun shapes!

*This was also my favorite meal from graduate school. Gotta love eatin’ on the cheap!

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How To Make Cupcakes

…in five easy steps!

Step One: Go to Vanilla Pastry Studio.

Step Two: Buy a bunch of cupcakes. (Half a dozen will do, I suppose.)

Step Three: Marvel at the beauty of your chosen cup o’ cake.

(I chose chocolate peppermint – it was a GOOD CHOICE.)

Step Four: You’re not done yet! I said MARVEL!

Step Five: Jam that sucker in your mouth. Or eat it in a bowl with a spoon, if you’re classy.

Vanilla is easily the gold standard for cupcakes in the city of Pittsburgh.* The “sugar fairy” gimmick I could see as getting a little obnoxious over time, but as long as they keep creating such moist, delicious little cakes topped with such fluffy, delicate mounds of heaven icing, they can call themselves whatever they want.

Like “genius.” Or “goddess.” Or, okay, “sugar fairy.”

*They don’t even pay me to say stuff like this! But, hey, Vanilla…if you’re listening…WILL WORK FOR CUPCAKES!

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