Archive | July, 2013

Casablanca and Moroccan Beef with Cous Cous

28 Jul

I’ve said before that Casablanca is my absolute favorite movie.  Well, my friend Jen had never seen it (I know, gasp, the horror).  So a few weeks ago I decided I was going to force her to watch it and also make a Moroccan meal to go with the movie.  So instead of looking one up online, I turned to the family.  My cousin Mike (uncle to miss adorable below) is a trained chef, even if that isn’t what he’s doing for a living right now.  So I asked him to send me something to go with my movie watching and he sent me this Moroccan Beef with Cous Cous recipe.

First though, I went to see this little girl earlier in the day, had to get in some snuggles.  My mom is holding her here, I love this pose though, we call it Thinking Girl.  Look at those LONG legs!


Here is the recipe from Mike with some pictures from me.

Moroccan Beef Cous Cous (yields 4)

  • 1 lb. beef tenderloin (or chuck) – 1 inch cubes
  • 1 spanish onion – chopped
  • 2-3 garlic cloves – minced
  • 1 tsp ginger
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • pinch of saffron (optional)
  • 3-4 white or gold potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 1-2 large carrots – peeled and cubed
  • handful of fresh chopped parsley and cilantro
  • handful of red or green olives (optional)
  • handful of garbonzo beans (optional)
  • 1/2 or 1 whole preserved lemon (or grated lemon peel)
  • 3 cups of beef stock
  • Morrocan cous cous (or Israeli if you can’t find it)
  • Chicken stock


Pat beef dry and season on all sides with salt and pepper, ginger, turmeric, cumin, and saffron (reserve some of spices for vegetables).  Add olive oil to large pot and brown the meat on all sides (in batches if needed) on medium-high heat. Remove from pot.


Reduce heat and add a little more olive oil and sweat onions, garlic, and carrots until soft. Add remainder of spices and stir.


Add beef back into pot and add 3 cups of beef stock and cover. Simmer the meat and veggies for about 1 1/2 hours or until beef is fork tender.

IMG_0752 IMG_0754

Add the potatoes, beans, olives and preserved lemon (or peel), adding broth/water if necessary. Partially cover and simmer until the potatoes are tender and the sauce is reduced until thick (add corn starch slurry to thicken if liquid is being reduced too much).


Add some chopped parsley and cilantro. Season the stew with more spices and salt and pepper if necessary.

During the last part of cooking, follow instructions on cous cous package. Once it is light and fluffy, add cous cous to bowls. Spoon stew over cous cous and garnish with more parsley and cilantro and serve.


A note from Mike:  This is a staple of Moroccan cuisine and is usually cooked in a tagine. Since most people do not own a tagine (myself included), a stock pot will suffice just fine. This is tasty on cool night and while watching Casablanca!

So I cooked this up and we watched Casablanca.  I’ve seen it like 3 dozen times so my opinion doesn’t count.  Jen’s thoughts on it though had to do with the fashion (she loved it), and the drama (a little over the top for her at moments).  I hadn’t seen it in a while, but it was as good as I remembered of course.  Rick’s speech at the end alone is enough to watch this movie, it has more great statements than almost any other movie.  If you’ve still not see it, please go rent it.  It’s only about 1.5 hours long, so it won’t exactly take up a bunch of your time.  And make this dish, it’s actually really easy and it tastes really good.

Manicotti with Chicken and Spinach… and the arrival of Sarah Faith

27 Jul

Earlier this week my cousin and his wife welcomed this little bundle of joy to the world.


Sarah is amazing and adorable and I could not be more excited for Shaun and Shannon.

As my friends with children tell me, these first few weeks are both wonderful and exhausting.  Sarah will be growing every day, and likely keeping mom and dad up every night.  So to ease the burden a little bit, I’m making them some food to either cook right away or freeze for later.  This is the first installment, Manicotti stuffed with chicken, spinach and ricotta.  Here is the recipe!

1 box Manicotti

16 oz ricotta

2-3 chicken breast (you want about 1.5-2 cups shredded chicken)

1 1/2 Cups Mozzarella (1/2 cup for the mixture, 1 cup for the top)

1 bag fresh spinach (or 1 box frozen)

2 cloves of garlic

1 egg

Italian seasoning

Marinara of choice

To start this, I cooked the chicken in the crock pot, for me, it’s the easiest way to get the chicken to shred and it’s no fuss.


I brought a pot of water to boil and added the manicotti.  The box says to cook it for 9-10 minutes, I only cooked it for about 5 minutes.  I under-cooked it a little since the manicotti would be baking as well.

While that was going on…

I steamed the fresh spinach and drained it really well (as spinach has a ton of water)

Then I mixed the chicken, ricotta, spinach, egg, garlic and seasoning together.  You know me by now, I suck at measuring, so I assume it was about a tablespoon of seasoning.  Maybe more.


I poured a little bit of the marinara on the bottom of the aluminum pan I will be delivering this in.

I then washed my hands really well, because using my hands is the easiest way for me to stuff manicotti.  Some people use pastry bags, or ziploc bags, but they never work well enough for me.  Each was stuffed full and placed in the pan.


I covered that with the rest of the jar of marinara and then a good bunch of mozzarella. I covered it in foil after the mozzarella was added and forgot to take a picture, so this is just with the sauce.


I covered this and refrigerated it.  Shaun and Shannon can either cook it when I deliver it tomorrow or freeze it if they like.  It should cook for 60 minutes at 350.  The first 45 minutes  should be covered and the last 15 uncovered.

The only thing with freezing it (and it should freeze fine), is to thaw it out in the fridge at least overnight before cooking.

So I hope that they enjoy this one and that it helps take the load off a little bit.  I think I’m going to make them chicken enchiladas later in the week.

Fish with Herbed Greek Yogurt Sauce

22 Jul

I found this recipe on Pinterest a few months ago and I made this once before.  It’s really really tasty and super simple.


What you’ll need…

Fish (I used flounder, but the original called for salmon.  I think any fish would work)

1 small container of plain Greek Yogurt

1 heaping tbsp dijon mustard

1 heaping tbsp fresh dill

1 heaping tbsp fresh parsley


Mix together the yogurt, dijon mustard, dill and parsley.


I let this sit for an hour or so then spread it on top of the fish.  This makes enough for 4 pieces of fish (3-4 oz each).  Don’t be stingy, heap this on top.


I also decided to roast some zucchini with the fish and bake a sweet potato.  I just put some olive oil, salt and pepper on the zucchini and cooked it with the fish for about 12 minutes.


Here is the plate, I kinda destroyed the fish when I moved it from the tray, that’s what I get for trying to move it with a fork and not a spatula.


I just put some cinnamon on the potato.  All together, this comes in at 359 calories, and the fat in it is all healthy fat.  It’s very filling too and is a super fast weeknight meal.

Viva Las Vegas

18 Jul

This past weekend I went to Vegas with two of my very good girlfriends to celebrate some birthdays (Kirra and Maura).


There was a lot of very good food, lots of drinks, some awesome shows and a little gambling.  And no freaking sleep.  I swear to you, they pump oxygen into the hotels there to keep people up and at it.  Between that, the lights and the noise, I pretty much operated on the tiniest bit of sleep the whole time, but it was Vegas 🙂

We got there on Wednesday evening and after checking into our gorgeous hotel, Aria, we got ready for the night!  We went to a restaurant in Aria called Julian Serrano which featured small plates with a Spanish influence.  We decided to all get salads and then share some other small plates.  I got a pretty standard salad that was very good.  Maura ordered this interesting number though, it was so pretty she was almost afraid to dig in.


That was basically the crouton wrapped around the salad.

Kirra and I shared sea bass with a donostiarra sauce. I’ve never had that sauce before and I can’t even find out exactly what it is online, but it was phenomenal.  We also ordered wild mushroom risotto that was to die for and short ribs.

We then headed next door for some drinks at the Cosmopolitan.  I decided to stick with wine, so nothing fancy there, but one of the girls we met up with got a cosmo that she said was one of the best she’s had.

Around 2 we figured we should try to get some sleep… fail.  You’ll see a pattern soon.

I’m pretty sure we were all up by 8 am even though I laid there trying to will myself back to sleep.  We were meeting 3 other girls there along with some of Kirra’s family.  While Kirra went to have breakfast with her family and gamble a bit, three of us headed down for an early lunch.  Even simple Vegas food I found to be excellent.  I got a panini for lunch with chicken, caramllized onions, pesto, some other stuff I can’t remember and it was awesome.

We then spent the day sitting poolside while I avoided getting burned while sitting on the sun.  Actually, it wasn’t too hot the days I was there.  Don’t get me wrong, the pool felt great, but I once lived in Florida, so I was okay.

After getting my fill of the sun, I went in to try to learn blackjack a little better.  I lost $80 in like 10 minutes.  So very sad.  After that it was time to go and get ready for our big night out.  Chippendale night!

The show was at the Rio so we decided to eat there.  We weren’t sure where we’d end up going to eat but decided that an Italian place named Martorano’s right next to the theater would be good.  It was an interesting experience to say the least.  Part club, part restaurant.  The music was so loud, you couldn’t really hear the people across the table.  They also had a movie playing, Casino, and occasionally they would play the sound from a particular scene.  It was just weird.  The food was really good, but that’s just not my style of dining, it was very distracting. This was the chicken dish that I got, it had a lot of cheese on it as you can see!


However, once that was over, we got to see some really good looking guys dance and take their clothes off.  Now I’ll be the first to tell you that male strippers are usually super creepy.  These guys were not.  Maybe it’s because Ian Ziering of 90210 fame was in the show.  Maybe it’s because they were all superbly built and hot.  Maybe it’s because there were over 200 screaming women in the room having a good time.  Either way, it was seriously a blast.  And we got to talk to Ian after the show and get a picture with him.  And I got my picture with these two 🙂


We then went back to our hotel and had some drinks at a lounge.  It was a nice relaxing end to a rather exciting evening.  Maura and I decided we were starving around 2 and went to the 24 hour cafe for some pizza, also very good, especially given the time of day it was.  Then we went to attempt to sleep.  Fail again.

Around 10 on Saturday we just headed straight to the pool to get a good spot.  We just ate pool side and I got an oriental salad that was very refreshing and light, which is what I really wanted.  I also got a ridiculously large and fruity drink.  It was part strawberry daiquiri part pina colada.  It was sweet and silly and awesome.

I was super excited for dinner and the show we were seeing that night.  We went to Jean Georges Steakhouse.  It was fantastic.  I started by sharing a tomato and mozzarella salad that was simple and fantastic at the same time.


I ordered the 8 oz fillet and had it cooked medium rare.  Jen is cringing right now.  It was like cutting through butter.  I also ordered a side of mashed potatoes with black truffles that I couldn’t finish and felt super sad about.  One of the other people at dinner ordered macaroni and cheese with truffles that was also phenomenal.

After that we went to see a relatively new Cirque du Soleil show, Zarkana.  I pretty much sat through the whole show with my mouth hanging open and my eyes super wide on the edge of my seat.  It was fantastic and we had awesome seats.

We went and had a few drinks and gambled a bit then I decided to play a little electronic roulette.  I turned $20 into $78 and then turned that back into $25.  It’s a talent.  We were all so exhausted that we tried to get to sleep at a decent time and I did manage to sleep from about 2 until 8.

Alas, Sunday was our last day in Vegas and we headed to the airport in a limo courtesy of one of the girls we were there with.

I have to thank Kirra for planning such a great vacation.  I met some awesome people (Amy, Danielle and Missy), saw two great shows, ate some really amazing food and just in general had a great relaxing time away.  This is definitely a trip I’d like to make again.

The Lone Ranger Review

6 Jul

On Friday, I went to see The Lone Ranger.

The_Lone_Ranger movie poster

It was cheesy and campy and obvious.  It was also entertaining.  It had unbelievable action scenes, over the top explosions, lots of stuff happening on top of trains, in trains, on train tracks… you get the picture.

I felt that Armie Hammer’s Lone Ranger was channeling his inner Doctor Who when he kept saying that he wouldn’t kill and didn’t believe in guns.  I got it at first, he was a lawyer, he wanted to follow due process.  It just went on a bit too long.  When he finally gave in and realized that the only way to truly stop the bad guys, he held nothing back.  Armie Hammer is just so Mr. All American to me.  I have trouble buying him as that rough and tumble Lone Ranger.  He did the best he could with it though.

Johnny Depp’s Tonto was a little odd, but let’s face it, most of his characters are odd.  I absolutely got his character’s motivation.  He lost his whole tribe to “the bad guys” mentioned above as a child, due to his actions.  But they were the actions of a child, I just felt bad that he carried that guilt his whole life.  I’ll give it to Johnny though, he knows how to play crazy and funny and bent on a mission all at the same time rather well.  He’s done it for the Pirates movies and now this one.

Anyway, this would be a wait for DVD movie recommendation in my opinion unless you are a little bored one weekend.  I really want to go see Monsters University next.  I was a little surprised that these two big Disney movies released the same weekend.  I guess it’s slightly different audiences, but there is enough overlap.

So, that was my opinion on the Lone Ranger, if you saw it, what did you think?

Patriotic Movies

4 Jul

So hopefully you are spending some time with family and/or friends on this little holiday break. For those of you taking a few extra days off and possibly running into some indoor time with the possibility of rain (at least here in Pittsburgh), I figured I’d give you some good ole’ Patriotic movies to watch.

To celebrate July 4, here are some great movies about the awesomeness of America. No movie poster pics today, I’m operating on my phone.

To Kill A Mockingbird

I love Gregory Peck in this movie. And I love the theme of a white lawyer fighting for the rights and life of a black man in the Depression era south. This movie came out in 1962, which would have been a dangerous time in the Civil Rights Movement. While African Americans and some sympathetic white Americans were in the middle of the fight for equal rights there were a number of politicians and organizations fighting to keep them down.

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

First off, for those who don’t know, Jimmy Stewart is from the SW PA area, a town outside of Pittsburgh, so I automatically love his movies. Mr. Smith is appointed to a spot in the Senate, filling a vacancy. He soon runs into political machinations and corruption and fights for what he believes in. This is to remind all of us that when we say things like “the good old days”, political corruption is nothing new.

Top Gun

Ok, a non-serious movie finally. The music, the flying, the motorcycle, and oh, the Volleyball scene with a young, hot Val Kilmer! I love this movie, and it has so many great one-liners.

Dazed and Confused

I include this for this two simple reasons. Number one, this is a great coming of age movie. Second is for this quote from their teacher: “OK, guys, one more thing. Hey, this summer when you’re being inendated with all this bi-centennial, fourth of July, bru-ha-ha just remember what you’re celebrating. That’s the fact that a bunch of slave-owning aristocratic white males didn’t want to pay their taxes.”

Born on the Fourth of July

I was probably too young the first time I watched this Oliver Stone movie to really get it. I watched it again when I was much older and was better able to understand how scary coming home from war is. After witnessing the atrocities of war, experiencing life altering injuries and suffering from PTSD before that was something that was really diagnosed, it’s easy to see how Tom Cruise’s real-life character Ron Kovic became an anti-war, human rights activist.

Independence Day

Yes, the Aliens attacked the whole world, but of course it was us American’s who finally destroyed them with our awesome technology. Because I’m a bit of an IT geek, even though the thought of this is preposterous, it was an interesting idea at the time.

Saving Private Ryan

Even though I can’t imagine sending a whole platoon out to save one person, this is a great WWII movie.

The Patriot

A Mel Gibson movie before he went totally crazy. I have to be honest, the main reason I watched this was for Heath Ledger. How funny, two Aussies playing Americans fighting in the American Revolution

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