Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Post Birthday Round-up: Kick-butt Chili, The Windy City, and that Sandwich with Fries on It

So the only downside to a birthday week? Birthday week recovery. I plan to remain in recovery mode for a few more days, right up until my end-of-summer travel season kicks in. Said travel includes at least one more trip to Pittsburgh, a trip to Philly, a trip to London/Newcastle, a trip to New Jersey, and a trip to Rochester, NY.

I'm a little exhausted just thinking of it.

When faced with such a high-impact schedule, I find it's best to prepare big batches of food that can stay in the fridge or in little serving-sized portions in the freezer. Accessible leftovers are the key to easy living. Kind of.

Anyway, for this round of freezer-friendly goods, I decided to make use of some chuck roast that was getting too cozy in our fridge. The result: some extremely decent chili and equally tasty lentil soup. The chili - a recipe I snagged from the Neely's (whom I really recommend if you're ever in need of any sort of BBQ or grill related dish) -
tasted even better the next day, which prompted me to place some in a pie pan (or a cast iron skillet if you have enough batter), cover it with corn bread batter, and then bake it in a 350 degree oven for roughly 15 minutes. It's a little slice of heaven.

The following day I turned to Giada De Laurentis (she of the ample cleavage and comparably-sized forehead) for some guidance on lentil soup prep. I've only ever made red lentils at home before, and they're a decidedly different creature than their green cousins, so I wasn't sure what all would be involved in the preparation and recipe execution.

Overall, it was a pretty decent dish, but it's definitely not my favorite. I'll keep the recipe on hand in case we're ever snowed in again this winter, but otherwise I'll attempt other soup-based challenges first. Like, Pho...

Anyway, my birthday celebrating went splendidly. I received a lovely new mountain bike from Tony, so now I can start tackling my next endurance event: a triathlon. I also basked in some friendly adoration at The Brewer's Art, where my very excellent friends joined me for some brews and several, several plates of the BA's AMAZING garlic-rosemary french fries. I would have taken a photo, but most of the plates were emptied of their contents within mere moments of reaching our table.

A few days later and I found myself in Pittsburgh to attend a Pirate's game, where our nephew's Cub Scout troop presented the flags during the national anthem. Too cute!

But before that, there was beer. If you ever find yourself in the Steel City, I highly recommend visiting the Church Brew Works in Lawrenceville. Talk about re-purposing a building: The former home of St. John the Baptist Church now serves a wide selection of local and specialty brews, as well as some kick ass pizza and desserts. While meeting up with some 'burgh-based peeps, I enjoyed a Coconut Stout followed by a Lavender Summer Ale, with a creme brulee chaser. (You read that right the first time.)

Sunday's game turned out to be enjoyable. The team lost, of course, but that's still no reason not to enjoy PNC Park, which is by far one of the best ball stadiums in the country. The view alone is worth the price of admission.

But I'm not here to wax poetic about the Pirate's losing franchise. (At least not when I live 15minutes away from the Oriole's home turf.) I'm all about the food, which PNC has in friggin' spades. I had my choice of Quaker Steak wings and Manny Sanguillen's BBQ, but for my money, you can't go wrong with Primanti Bros.

Yes, it's the sandwich with the fries in it (add a fried egg for an extra $1). And the coleslaw. And the tomatoes and meat. People ask me about them all the time. Why? Because they're awesome, that's why. A ball park staple and a deli-slice of heaven when you've had one too many, you just can't go wrong with one of these with a pickle on the side.

Oh! It makes my mouth water just looking at it!

Pittsburgh was followed by a trip to Chicago, where I had a chance to help my best friend clean her for her house warming party. - I mean, hang out.

Just kidding! Well, not about the cleaning - that part was true, but I did get to spend some QT with Kristin, her other half Colin, her sister Kayce, and several hundred of their friends and family (most of whom I know and also love). We ate unhealthy amounts of pulled pork sandwiches, macaroni and cheese, queso & chips, and drunken sausage. Colin bought a keg. I made my hallmark Redneck Margaritas. I think there might have been some crudites in the mix.

I either case I was so full after the 10 hour food fest that I lacked room to dig into my latest birthday treat...

Kristin's mom picked it up, which was so touching that I really didn't care that my name was misspelled. I never did snag a piece of the cake, but I heard it was delicious.

On Sunday, we decided to recharge our batteries with a late brunch and movie. (Dinner for Schmucks. I'd suggest waiting for it to come out on DVD or to go ahead and watch the original French version instead.) In between, we indulged in some Shark Week and Oberwies Dairy treats. Total. Ice cream. Heaven. Apparently, Oberwies specializes in milk, as well as cakes, malts, and burgers. You can even have ice cream or milk delivered. Plus, there are chess tables in the shop for your entertainment. I suck at chess, and even I enjoyed a game.

I had a chocolate peanut butter waffle bowl, and promptly spoiled my dinner. We ended up snacking instead of eating for the rest of the night while my hosts taught me how to play Texas Hold 'em. Turns out, I'm not a bad player. Vegas, here I come.

On my last day we made it into the actual city of Chicago for a few hours. Even though I was born just outside the city, I've never really explored it as an adult. Kristin and Colin took me to Millennium Park, where we splashed around the Crown Fountain probably more than any rational adults should, and then I was dutifully taken to Cloud Gate (aka, "The Bean") where we stood underneath and next to one of the oddest but most original pieces of work I've seen in a long time. The view of the skyline in the reflection is crazy.

We had lunch at the nearby Gage on Michigan Street. We had lots o' beer and a giant bowl of muscles. Then I stupidly ordered my own sandwich, a crisp pork belly concoction that was too big to photograph. Well, not really, but it really was huge. I ate well too much of it and felt a little ill after.

We decided to walk it off by heading to the Sear's Tower, where you can take an elevator to the new Sky Deck and take in a view of not only the city, but of the three surrounding states bordering Illinois. At least, we thought you only had to take an elevator. It turns out that you have to wait in line to get to the top of the Sears Tower. A lot of line. There's the line to the elevator, which leads to the line for security, which leads to another line to the actual ticket office. When we finally got to a window with a real live person behind it, I asked how long it would be before we actually got to the tower and was crushed to find out that it was at least another 30minutes.

Nuts to that!

We were short on time anyway (I was flying out that evening and we needed to get back to O'Hare) so we simply turned around and left. Colin was a tad cranky about the experience. That said, the Sears Tower has a very lovely basement.

So now I'm back in B'more, re-adjusting to office life and preparing for a second sojourn to Pittsburgh for Tony's family reunion/picnic. Lots of Italians. Lots of food. Good times to be had, I'm sure. There's rumor that those of us of age may hit the newly built casino for a few giggles.

Time to put those poker skills of mine to good use...

Redneck Margaritas
(Courtesy of the The Sweet Potato Queens)

12 oz frozen limeade
12 oz tequila
1 12oz bottle of Corona
12 oz of 7-Up

1. Just mix the whole mess together and serve over ice. If you want a frozen version, blend the ice with the limeade and tequila first and then add the remaining ingredients. Otherwise you'll find yourself a sticky, soda and beer-covered mess.

2. Hand over your car keys to a designated driver and then sit down and relax. These libations are deceptively easy to throw back and you will find yourself wondering where you are and just how the hell you got there if you're not careful.


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