Eating with Rob

My new marriage and the noms that bring us together.

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Reach for the skyyyyyy.

On Monday November 25th, my toils were put to the test, and I presented my 166 page dissertation proposal to my lab group. The only comment? That it was too funny (I use a lot of lolcats in my presentations). I was so grateful to have next to no content or structural changes that I hopped in the Rav with Rob for a cross-country Thanksgiving trip in good conscience.

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The plan was to leave Richmond on Tuesday night and arrive in Des Moines on Wednesday for dinner with Rob’s extended family, and then to drive down to Kansas City on Thursday morning for dinner with my family. And THEN to drive to St. Louis on Friday for my good friend Rachel’s rehearsal dinner on Friday, serve as her bridesmaid at her wedding on Saturday, and then drive BACK to Virginia on Sunday so I could be back in time for my clients at 9 am on Monday. I needed to talk to some chili about this.

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I had never had Skyline Chili before (http://www.skylinechili.com/), but we were somewhere in Ohio and I thought it was appropriate. As a Midwesterner, I had heard great tales of this gastrointestinal bastion, but never before had a beheld its bounty with my own eyes. And it wasn’t pretty.

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I can’t remember which kind Rob got, but I got the 3-ways (with onions and not beans because beans are gross and I’ve always thought so). They arrived at our table, heaping with practically a loaf of shredded cheese on top, hiding both the chili and…spaghetti?. I had not anticipated this and was ready to throw in the towel before we even ordered. But Rob insisted that I go with it since it was “the thing to get,” so I conceded. And I loved it.

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I couldn’t have been more shocked. I’m not even really much of a chili person, but was absolutely delicious - in fact, I don’t think I’ve had better chili. I’m not sure why it needed spaghetti, but this chili exceeded my expectations of simply glorified meat sauce. Consider me converted.

Caroline

Filed under Rob Bratney food blog Ohio Skyline Chili home for the holidays dissertation chili spaghetti shredded cheese cheddar cheese onions beans

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No scrubs!

Thanks for hanging in there, folks. We finally made it to the home stretch - just one more long weekend until the proposal was finished and it would be ready for my lab group’s discerning eyes. As such, Rob took was pleased to take care of dinner one last time.

Rob and I have been to 821 Cafe a handful of times over my tenure in Richmond (http://www.821caferva.com/). In fact, it was the first place we ever ate together in Richmond (aww - http://omnomwithrob.tumblr.com/post/16824726063/mouth-of-the-south). Who could have guessed that a little over two years later, they would be bearing sandwiches to our shared address?

In an uncharacteristic move, I chose a sandwich. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good sandwich, but it’s really got to sound like something special if I’m going to order one from a restaurant. I couldn’t have been more pleased with this one - the fried artichoke sub. The fried artichokes were SO flavorful that I didn’t even mind the raw tomatoes (usually picked-off first thing). I had never tasted a sandwich like this before, and I loved every bite.

Rob’s was definitely the type I wouldn’t have ordered - just a club sandwich, nothing about it that couldn’t be made at home. But it was also very good! The layers of turkey, ham, bacon, and swiss and cheddar cheeses made for a colorful combination with the lettuce, tomato, and of course, the frilly toothpicks. Though requiring some dislodging of the jaw to consume, it was very pleasing to the eye. And three meats - count ‘em.

I got just as much of a kick out of the receipt as I did out of the sandwiches. The “NO SCRUBS!”, the waiter named “NIGHT,” and the “FART SUB” were just a few highlights.

I love a little humor with my food, and the ever-quirky 821 Cafe doesn’t fail to disappoint with either. This meal far exceeded my expectations for delivery sandwiches, especially since I didn’t even realize that 821 Cafe delivered. Jimmy Johns, eat your heart out.

Caroline

Filed under Rob Bratney food blog Richmond Virginia 821 Cafe delivery sandwich fried artichokes fried artichoke sub tomatoes lettuce club sandwich turkey ham bacon swiss cheese cheddar cheese cheese frilly toothpicks

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Appy meal.

By the week of November 18th, I was in the homestretch. Just one more week until I had to present my dissertation to my lab group, which would be the first time anyone else had seen or thought about it except for me. This was sure to come with massive revisions and critiques, to be implemented as quickly and thoroughly as possible before my actual proposal on December 13th. So if you think we had any fresh groceries in our house that week, you would be sorely disappointed. As I set myself up for another late night, Rob came home from work with the most beautiful things I have ever seen.

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Rob’s work is directly across the street from a restaurant that had just recently opened called Southern Railway Taphouse (http://s470880772.onlinehome.us/SRT/). We’d been there before during its opening weekend (http://omnomwithrob.tumblr.com/post/74956458572/chugga-chugga-brew-brew), and I had no idea they did takeout. But they do takeout. Oh, do they do takeout.

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The clear winner here was the macaroni and cheese stuffed eggrolls. These fried delicacy are stuffed full of macaroni, sharp cheddar and pepper jack cheeses, as well as tomatoes and green onions. I have never tasted anything like this before in my life, and they were better than I ever could have imagined.

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In second place, for me anyway, were the chipotle pork shanks. The pork was fall-off-the-bone tender, probably because they cook them twice. They’re slathered in a chipotle barbecue glaze, which I thought was a little too sweet. With a more flavorful sauce, these would have killed it.

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Finally, we have pan-fried goat cheese. These little nuggets of goat cheese came with  a roasted red pepper tomato coulis and balsamic on the side, not unlike the salad I had the first time we ate there. While good in theory, I’ve experienced both times that their goat cheese ends up really dry, and not creamy, under these conditions. So, despite my love for goat cheese, these were meh.

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I love appetizers so much, and these three managed to feed both Rob and me well enough to be satisfied and still have some leftover. My favorite thing about this experience (besides the eggrolls, which are hard to beat), is that Rob picked these out without asking my opinion whatsoever, and he totally scored. I couldn’t have been happier with his selections - I guess he knows my taste pretty well :)

Caroline

Filed under Rob Bratney food blog Richmond Virginia Southern Railway Taphouse egg rolls macaroni and cheese mac and cheese macaroni and cheese eggrolls tomatoes green onions pepper jack cheese sharp cheddar chipotle pork shanks pork shanks chipotle barbecue fried goat cheese goat cheese tomato coulis coulis balsamic balsamic vinegar appetizers dissertation grad school grad student

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Patience is a virtue.

I think it was Sunday, November 17th. I was getting ever closer to my goal, having nearly finished the literature review and now scouring for measures and detailing my research design. This couldn’t be done on time if I didn’t continue to spend my every waking moment hard at work. Luckily, this guy had my back.

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It didn’t matter that I couldn’t be the one cooking them, it was a Sunday, and I was getting pancakes, dammit. It was a great excuse to use some of the awesome New York syrup we’d gotten on our birthday apple-picking adventure almost a month earlier.

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It’s pretty funny to me how differently Rob and I cook. I often glance at a recipe, all the while remembering ingredients I don’t actually have and thinking of additional things that I could substitute or just that “would be good.” Rob, on the other hand, meticulously measures each little granule of every little thing, and all trains come to a halt if there’s a missing ingredient. So it usually takes forever. But I didn’t care, I had a mimosa.

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True, pancakes are a complex animal that require a great deal of precision in order to get the perfect fluff. So I couldn’t fault him too much for wanting to get things exactly right. But boy was I ready when these things finally hit the pan.

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You know how most people ruin the first pancake as they get used to the amount of time and heat?

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Not Rob. Notorious for perfect first pancakes. I think it’s written in his DNA.

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Another reason I was so excited for pancakes was so that I could break out my tiny little boats for syrup! Kate Bohnert got these for me at a bridal shower, and you should have heard my squeals. She is a masterful, intuitive lady.

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Before long, my order was up, and it was time to dig in. I poured my syrup with delight over these freshly flipped cakes, and couldn’t have been more pleased by how light, airy, and fluffy these came out! I wish I could share the recipe, but I honestly think he just googled it and worked his magic.

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This was such a treat. Thanks to Rob’s patience and good nature, I had a truly wonderful pancake experience prior to delving back into PsycInfo, where I continued to research patience, of all things. At this point, it was little things like this that kept me going. I hope he knows that.

Caroline

Filed under Rob Bratney food blog Richmond Virginia pancakes Sunday breakfast syrup Cronin's Maple Syrup dissertation grad school grad student

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Chicky chicky parm parm.

In the middle of the day on what must have been Thursday, November 14th, Rob pried me away from my computer and insisted on taking me to lunch. He took full advantage of this opportunity and took me quite far out to Glen Allen, a suburb of Richmond, where he’d heard of this strip mall joint called Hurley’s Tavern that was supposed to be pretty good (http://hurleystavern.com/).

Hurley’s has an extensive menu of bar food classics, not unlike the cheeseburger of Rob’s you see above. I like that all the burgers are served on Texas toast, which is a unique touch compared to most burgers you find around here. The chips were homemade, too.

Speaking of unique, I ordered something that I really only ordered because I had never seen anything like it before, a “baked potato bowl.” I don’t know what I was expecting…I think I had used all my best judgment in my dissertation. But I guess I thought maybe it would be one of their many styles, served atop a bed of baked potato all in a nice bowl? So imagine my surprise when my chicken parmesan bowl shows up in this honker.

That’s right folks, a one pound baked potato just stuffed with breaded chicken, marinara sauce, mozzarella cheese, and fresh basil. Did these flavors go with a baked potato? No. Should I have gone with perhaps the pot roast bowl, or the chili bowl? Yes. But there was no going back.

I wished I had gotten just an order of chicken parmesan on its own, but who gets that at a bar? The chicken was absolutely surrounded by way too much dry, unseasoned baked potato, and it lacked enough sauce to make the whole thing cohesive. So in all, the chicken was good, but my view was better.

I’m not sure we’ll be making it back to Hurley’s any time soon - it’s a bit of a drive for us, and I didn’t love my selection. Which isn’t to say there aren’t other good things on the menu, and it did seem like it could be a fun place to watch a sporting event. But for now, they can keep their stuffed baked potatoes, which are brilliant in theory, not so much in the execution.

Caroline

Filed under Rob Bratney food blog Richmond Virginia Glen Allen Hurley's Hurley's Tavern bar food cheeseburger texas toast potato chips potato baked potato potato bowl chips homemade chips chicken parmesan chicken breaded chicken marinara sauce mozzarella cheese basil sports bar

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Puff the magic pastry.

Welp, we’re already there, my only adventure in cooking for the month of November. It was still relatively early in the month, and I’m glad I jumped at the chance, because there really wasn’t any time to cook from there on out.

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You can see that my brain was a bit scattered, since I managed to take approximately zero photos of the process of this little dinner, mini beef wellingtons. I got the recipe a few years ago from a Food Network show called Five Ingredient Fix, and it has been a great go-to recipe that I have made for friends and family alike (http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/claire-robinson/mini-beef-wellingtons-recipe/index.html).

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I added my cooked beef with onions and mushrooms to some puff pastry, folded them up, and baked them off until they were that beautiful shade of what I like to call, “puff pastry brown.” Paired with a little white rice (and no vegetables…sorry, mom), and you have a happy hubs.

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I think he may have just been happy to see me in the kitchen and not on the couch, wrapped in a blanket, staring at my computer and rocking myself slowly (just kidding on that last part…mostly). After eating our fill, I fixed the leftovers in one of my favorite vintage pyrex dishes.

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These babies perform so well, even if was just for the two of us on a chilly November night. They visually want for gravy, but they’re actually incredibly moist and tasty, and while I’m sure gravy would be a welcome addition, it’s definitely not necessary. If you’re looking for an impressive entree, I’d highly recommend this one. It worked on my in-laws, and it can work for yours, too. Add some vegetation for a colorful plate (and nutrition, I GUESS), and the crowd will go wild.

Caroline

Filed under Rob Bratney food blog Richmond Virginia dissertation graduate school mini beef wellingtons beef wellington white rice Claire Robinson Food Network Five Ingredient Fix beef onions gravy mushrooms

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Indecent proposal.

Once the Halloween party was over, it was time to get down to business. I had twenty-four days to write my dissertation proposal, which was still skeletal at that point. So begins a very difficult month in which cooking and even grocery shopping were sadly not a priority. In fact, I only cooked for us ONE time the whole month. Unheard of in my grad school career.

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So, we did a lottttttt of takeout. On this particular evening in that first week of November, we decided to try Elephant Thai (http://www.elephantthais.com/Home.aspx). Extravert that he is, Rob was happy to make the call and order us the above fried wontons, among other things.

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Rob had the disassembled mussamun curry you see above. It’s a nice, hearty curry with tamarind and coconut milk among other things, not too spicy at all, with potatoes and onions and of course those classic curry spices. This has actually become a favorite Thai dish of mine since we tried it in New York about six months before (http://omnomwithrob.tumblr.com/post/47113885071/go-go-gadget-thai). Really warm and rich flavors.

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But I didn’t order any for my self. I had the pad thai…yes, I know - weak sauce, going with the classic American favorite. But I don’t know, I guess I figured that since this was our first time trying this place that we could presumably try again in the near future, good pad thai would be a good sign for future successes. So I carefully pondered its quality while I ate it, almost as carefully as Peach considered stealing Rob’s dinner.

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Seriously, my hummus, peanut butter, and Spaghetti-o loving cat could now increase her repertoire of favorite foods to curry. Wat.

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While our takeout experience of Elephant Thai was decent, it wasn’t too memorable. The fried wontons were no better than any I’ve had in Richmond, Rob’s curry was nice, but my pad thai was a bit dry, which I suppose I can forgive since it was takeout and might not have been in the best of shape. So as a result of my pondering, Elephant Thai didn’t make the list of repeat offenders in our month-o-takeout.

Caroline

Filed under Rob Bratney food blog Richmond Virginia Elephant Thai pad thai massamun massamun curry curry thai food thai Peach the Cat takeout fried wontons dissertation grad school graduate school graduate student

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Treat yo’ self!

I can’t lie, I’ve been so excited to write about this little event since it happened. On November 1st, Rob and I finally felt ready to entertain in our new apartment. So, we threw a little housewarming shindig/Halloween party. Prep started the night before…

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Thanks, Cyrus Penarroyo, for buying us the obnoxious 101 cookie cutter set we registered for! Now instead of just pumpkins, I could make snickerdoodles shaped like all kinds of fun Halloween stuff. I used this recipe, just without the cream cheese filling (http://cookiesandcups.com/cream-cheese-filled-snickerdoodles/), because this hostess/ain’t nobody have time for that. Because look what else I had to make.

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Let me explain. Rob and I decided to be Andy Dwyer and April Ludgate from Parks and Rec for Halloween, and I had the best time in the world theming my apps, tray trays, and zerts around the show (ahem http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6OhJJR8nBl4). My new chalkboard was obviously the perfect place to share my little menu. The only thing not Parks and Rec centered was the Quoit Club Punch, a special treat Rob wanted to offer our guests. Read about it here (http://punchdrink.com/recipes/quoit-punch/).

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So the first thing I offered to my guests (breaking in my amazing new serving platter) was “Litrally” vegan sweet potato hummus (http://www.vegetarianventures.com/2012/11/26/spiced-sweet-potato-hummus/#.UnJaBxCKJ6h), for our meat-free friends and as an homage to Chris Traeger. It wasn’t quite as creamy as I’d hoped, but it went nicely with my Halloween-themed dippers, orange bell pepper, mini carrots, and black tortilla chips.

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I obviously made many more than pictured here, but next on my buffet were my homemade crab rangoons with “awesome sauce,” aka Andy’s reply the first time April said “I love you.” These were probably the biggest effort in terms of time, and they were a little frustrating because I couldn’t get a good seal, and the filling kept coming out of the sides while frying. But they were still quite good! (http://chinesefood.about.com/od/partyappetizers/p/crabrangoon.htm).

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Now I don’t take a lot of shortcuts in the kitchen - I’m pretty dedicated to scratch-making the old-fashioned way. But I had to admit defeat when it came to making a sweet and sour-esque “awesome sauce” for the rangoons. Making that bright red, corn-starchy elixir is beyond what I can fathom at this point, so I bought some from the store pre-made. And it was really tasty.

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Simmering on the stovetop, I had the main attraction for our guests, Pawnee pumpkin risotto with Mouserat meatballs (Pawnee = the town in Parks and Rec, Mouserat = the name of Andy’s band). This is one of my all-time favorite autumn recipes (http://teaforsix.com/2011/09/11/pumpkin-and-meatball-risotto/), and the pumpkin, white wine, leeks, and sausage play so well together in this hearty risotto. Which Rob and I ate off of frisbees, just like Andy and April when they were too lazy to wash their plates.

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Finally, we come full circle - here are the “Sweetums” snickerdoodles I’d baked the night before, topped in their full cinnamon sugar glory. Sweetums is a villainous candy company in Pawnee, slowly but surely pumping Pawnee citizens full of obesity-inducing treats, and these cookies bearing their name went so nicely with our Harvest Festival cider - which was just some storebought apple cider I’d revved up with extra autumn spices and served out of my crockpot.

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My classmates are hilarious - they arrived exactly at 7 o’clock. Our conscientious PhD types are NEVER fashionably late. From left to right, we have April Ludgate, badminton player (who was actually an Olympic-level badminton player in real life!) 70s disco babe, jogger, cowgirl, and Rihanna. We missed you, Janette! Our 7-woman cohort is such a treat to have around, especially since we’re now third-years, it can be hard to get us all in the same place at the same time. Love them.

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After a few hours, my girls went home as Rob’s co-workers came knocking. We did not plan this, and I think it was absolutely hilarious - grad students will take the early shift at any party. Many glasses of punch later, our guests called it a night, and it was selfie time for me and my Burt Maclin (FBI).

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After which, we parked ourselves on the couch with the leftover Quoit Club Punch, broke character, and selfied with Peaches. Her Champion costume needs work.

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This was my first time entertaining guests with my new wedding wares, in our first apartment together, and as Mrs. Bratney. I loved feeding these wonderful people we have in our life, all together in our teeny apartment. It was a wonderful night.

Caroline

Filed under Rob Bratney food blog Richmond Virginia Halloween Halloween party housewarming housewarming party Parks and Rec Parks and Recreation Andy Dwyer April Ludgate Andy and April snickerdoodles cookie cutters hummus sweet potato hummus bell pepper tortilla chips carrots crab rangoons awesome sauce Chris Traeger sweet and sour sauce risotto meatballs sausage leeks pumpkin pumpkin risotto

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Some assembly required.

On Sunday, October 27th, Rob and I were homebound for a nice afternoon of homework and football. After the previous evening’s heartbreaking loss for Mizzou, we really needed the Chiefs to beat the Browns if we were going to have anything nice to say about the weekend. And you know me, I couldn’t let us watch on an empty stomach.

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So, I made buffalo chicken “bites” (I don’t think that’s the most accurate name for them, but whatever - http://www.ourfamilyeats.com/2012/05/buffalo-chicken-bites/). I started with two or three chicken thighs I had prepared in my crockpot until they were tender enough to shred.

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After mixing the chicken with hot sauce (Frank’s for the win) and butter, it was time to assemble. The recipe called for bleu cheese, which I understand goes well with the buffalo variety of things. But I don’t like bleu cheese, so I used goat cheese. My kitchen! My rules!

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I lovingly dolloped a spoonful of the filling on one side of each wonton, crumbled with some goat cheese, and folded them over with a little water on the edge for a nice seal. Per the instructions, I sprayed them with olive oil, and into the oven they went.

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They came out a very vibrant orange color, which was actually more aligned with the Browns’ team colors, but who cares. I fixed a big ol’ plate of them for us, and Rob and I settled in for some football with autumn libations and my homemade ranch dressing.

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Looks so festive, right? This was one of the easiest things I have ever made, and they were actually not too bad for us as far as football snacks go - I mean, I slow-cooked the chicken and baked the wontons, so aside from the butter and ranch dressing, these were practically vegetables. Anyway, they were just what we needed to munch on as we watched the Chiefs add another W to their undefeated season.

Caroline

Filed under Rob Bratney food blog Richmond Virginia Kansas City Chiefs Kansas City Chiefs Cleveland Browns fall autumn football football season NFL ranch dressing buffalo chicken wontons crock pot slow cooker goat cheese bleu cheese cheese homemade ranch dressing butter Frank's Frank's hot sauce hot sauce

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Here’s a health to thee.

After a long day of work, I tore myself away from my computer for long enough to make dinner. As you’ll see in coming posts, the “having time to make dinner” phase was drawing to a close at this point in the semester. But on this night, I happily withdrew to the kitchen to admire these enormous swordfish steaks I’d impulse bought on manager’s special at the Kroger.

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I have since learned that a “manager’s special” sticker might as well be a giant, flaming red flag (be smarter than me. don’t get the yogurt). Anyway, this looked and smelled fine to me, but I’d never made swordfish before. I knew it was quite a beefy fish, filling, robust. So I knew I wanted to treat it nice.

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So I obviously put gobs of butter in a mixing bowl and jazzed it up with fresh lemon juice, garlic, and parsley and probably more…I can’t seem to find the recipe I drummed up from Epicurious or Spark Recipes or whatever app I was using to search for ideas that day. After liberally rubbing the fish down with my herbed butter and sticking it under the broiler for several minutes, I moved to vegetation.

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I had carrots, so I made carrots - simple enough. I like to buy the little baby carrots because they’re a nice and easy side dish for the sack lunches Rob and I so often tote. But tonight, they too were getting my herbed butter, so that the carrots themselves could receive what I like to call, “continuity of care” (psych joke, not sorry).

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This turned into such a nice plate! Covered in butter, mind you, but you’ll also notice my “donut holes” from earlier that morning that hadn’t gotten the apple pie treatment. Like my adviser says, “Never do anything for just one purpose.” Check.

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We sat down in front of the tv with a couple of pumpkin beers and ate our dinner in front of the Mizzou vs. South Carolina football game. Well, what we could see of it anyway, from behind Rob’s warty New York pumpkin. The first half was going so well, look how excited and happy and blurry we were!

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It was short lived, as we endured a heartbreaking loss in double overtime. Rob learned that his new wife could write the book on how to be irrationally emotional following a heinous sporting loss. But at least we were well-fed - the swordfish was so delicious (thanks, butter), and the carrots and little biscuits really rounded things out into what’s probably the weirdest football-watching food ever. But you just wait until you see what I make for the Chiefs game the next day. You just wait.

Caroline

Filed under Rob Bratney food blog Richmond Virginia Mizzou University of Missouri Missouri Tigers University of South Carolina South Carolina Gamecocks swordfish butter butter sauce herbed butter lemon parsley garlic carrots biscuits football college football

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