Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Cruising - David's Steakhouse

Always bring a point and shoot if you are asking someone to take your photo - DSLRs can be difficult for snapshots!
A bit more about one of my favorite topics this summer - cruising!  First I explained why we love cruising, then I gave you the rundown of what we did on our week at sea.  Now I'd like to share one of the highlights of cruises - the dining!

The stereotype about cruises is that people over-indulge at 24-hour buffets on the Lido Deck, gorge themselves at a midnight chocolate buffet and gain ten pounds on a 7-night cruise.  While all of this is possible, that's not how we approach cruise cuisine and I doubt that most cruisers just cruise to eat.  I'll admit that my husband ate his fair share of cheeseburgers on the Lido Deck (who can resist a constant supply of freshly grilled burgers and hot fries right next to the pool?).  I'll also admit that on more than one occasion I indulged in two breakfasts (one via room service and the second on my way to the pool), but for the most part, we saved our calories for the good stuff - dinner!

(Oh, and it goes without saying that all diets went out the door on this cruise, which is why I gained a few pounds on this trip... it was worth it.  I recommend the Lose It! app for iPhone/Android for post-vacation calorie watching.)

Some cruisers are perfectly happy eating every single meal at the buffet onboard.  I will say that the buffet food was better than I anticipated and that we generally ate lunch at the buffet for convenience (it's right next to the pools).  However, we actually like to dress up and enjoy a sit-down dinner, so we dined in the main dining room or one of the specialty restaurants every night.

The main dining room is included in your cruise fare on Carnival.  The selection changes every night and the menu includes at least four courses:  appetizer, soup/salad, entree and dessert.  You can order whatever you like, as much as you like.  The food is not cooked to order, but it is acceptable.  It reminds me of the quality of food you'd have at a conference or a wedding reception.  Good, but not cooked to order. 

We enjoyed dinner in the main dining room for five out of seven nights, but we made special arrangements to have dinner on two other nights.  Halfway through our cruise we made a reservation at David's Steakhouse (almost every mass-market cruise has at least one upscale dining option with a cover charge).  We felt the $30 per person was well worth it, since we'd pay that in gratuity alone for this meal on land.  We like to dine leisurely and we really appreciated that the experience lasted over two hours.  Heavenly!

We enjoyed a cooked-to order four course meal that also included a few surprises, compliments of the chef.  We brought our own wine (which is permitted) and paid the $15 corking fee - it's well worth the corking fee to bring your own wine on a cruise.

I started with the Lobster Bisque...

There were nice chunks of lobster floating in the middle of this soup.  It was topped with crunchy, fresh bread.  My stomach is growling just describing this soup.

E had the Ahi Tartare...

E thought the tartare portion was a bit excessive.  I ate a few bites to help him out. 

Then the chef sent us this delightful bite of salmon with a cheesy sauce...

Cheese and raw salmon?  Sounds crazy, tasted yummy.  I was skeptical, but it was really good.

I enjoyed a Beefsteak Tomato Salad...

I normally don't like gorgonzola cheese, but it worked in this appetizer.  It had quite a bite, but it was tasty.  The arugula was awesome, too... gave it a nice, peppery bite.  It was like a twist on a caprese salad.

I chose the Lobster Tail as my entree (I'm not big on beef and we were at a steakhouse)...

The difference between this lobster tail and the variety served in the main dining room is that it's cooked to order and it's a larger tail.  The dining room lobster tail is cooked in mass quantities and doesn't have the same tender, buttery texture as this just-for-Keeley cooked to order version.  Basically it's another reason that it's worth the price to dine at the steakhouse.

E had the filet (if you know my husband, this is not a surprise)...

We ended the meal with two outrageous desserts.  I chose this Chocolate Sampler.  And no, I couldn't even finish it!

The sampler had little cups for each dessert:  Chocolate Cake, Banana Panacotta, Tiramisu (my favorite!) and Chocolate Marquise.

If you're cruising, I highly recommend checking out the specialty restaurants onboard.  Some people think it's a cheesy upsell, but it was definitely one of the best meals of our cruise (and we knew this, since we did it back in 2009).  If you think this meal looks good, wait until I show you the meal we enjoyed at the end of our cruise!

Does anyone else out there plan your vacation around special dining experiences?   Am I the only one who gains a few pounds on vacation and then spends half the summer trying to lose them?  I don't know about you, but I really do think it's all worth it.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Spicy Salsa Wings

Mmm... chicken wings!  Check out my recipe for Spicy Salsa Wings over on Potluck.  You can grill these wings outdoors (my favorite method) or bake them in the oven.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

More Fun at Sea

I've shared why my husband and I love cruising.  Here are some highlights of our most recent cruise.  It was a 7-night cruise on the Carnival Pride.  We departed from Baltimore and made stops in Cape Canaveral (Central Florida) as well as Nassau and Freeport in the Bahamas.  This wasn't our first visit to any of the ports and it was our second time on this cruise ship, so we took the opportunity to just relax and see the highlights.

One of the best things about cruising is the sunrises.  We normally get up at 5:15 a.m. for work (and I can't reset my internal clock for vacation), so naturally I had to step outside on the balcony during our first morning at sea to catch a glimpse of the sun on the horizon... 

We don't get unobstructed views like this at home.  It's really exceptional and sunrise on a cruise is such a quiet, special time.

On a cruise you have access to some type of food 24 hours a day.  While there is a huge breakfast buffet on the Lido Deck as well as breakfast served in the main dining room every day, we always order room service when we're at sea... because we can!

On Carnival ships room service breakfast = continental breakfast, but that's fine by us.  Especially considering that we enjoyed our coffee, fruit and muffins before heading up to the Lido Deck to eat a "real" meal.  Yes, way too many calories were consumed on this vacation.  If you cruise, I recommend that you take the stairs as much as possible while onboard!  You'll need the exercise.

We were at sea for two full days before we reached our first port in Florida.  The weather was perfect and we spent a whole lot of time doing absolutely nothing...

Doesn't he look happy and relaxed?

We'll admit that we're pretty laid back on cruises.  We spent our sea days reading, sleeping, sitting in the hot tub and drinking wine.  If you're more energetic there's plenty of other things to do.  But we're lazy on vacation.

We went to a wine tasting on our first day at sea ($15 per person upcharge).  Oh, and the photo has a red tint because the wine tasting took place in David's Steakhouse, which is located in the funnel of the ship.  The glass over the restaurant is tinted red to match the exterior of the funnel. 

The wine tasting included six wines and small bites of food to accompany each wine.  It was a nice way to chill out on a Monday afternoon and we met some cool people.  We're avid wine drinkers, so we didn't really learn anything, but it's always fun to taste wine and eat food with good company.

Sushi was available on most nights...

A sushi cart was set up in one of the lounges and they had a rotating menu of three rolls.  We hit up the sushi bar before dinner and enjoyed a few bites and a drink from the bar.  It was a nice pre-dinner pick me up.

One of the cutest (and silliest) parts of the cruise is the towel animal phenomenon...

Every night we'd return to our cabin to find a new creature.  It always makes me smile and it's one of those things that makes cruising different from a land-based vacation.

Speaking of returning to your cabin, they clean your room at least twice a day, sometimes more often!  You wake up, shower, go walk around the ship and when you come back your room is clean!  Then, you take an afternoon  nap, get dressed, go to the pool and your room is cleaned AGAIN!  After dinner you return to chocolates on your pillow and a cute towel animal. 

In Florida we rented a car and visited family.  In the Bahamas we spent both days on the beach.  No running around, not fancy excursions, just a nice, relaxing beach day... with blue water!

In Nassau we paid to access the private beach at the Sheraton Nassau Beach Resort (about 20 minutes from the port by public bus).  It's $25 per person for a day pass.  For this price you get beach chairs, umbrellas, towels and flotation devices to use in the ocean or the pool.  There are lifeguards, it wasn't crowded and there's also several restaurants on the property.  There's a swim up bar, at least two pools and a hot tub.  It was a great day and I'd do it again.

In Freeport we went to another private resort beach, but somehow we managed to get in for free.  I guess they liked us!

The surf was a bit rougher on the day we were in Freeport, so we didn't spend much time in the ocean.  Instead we layed under a palm tree and ended up getting sunburned - boo! 

E had to get a taste of Kalik, one of the Bahamian beers. We can buy it back home, but it's difficult to find.

As much as I love the sunrises on cruises, the sunsets are something special, too...

That's how we spend seven days doing (almost) nothing.  I know that not everyone likes cruises, but it really works for us.  I'll share some of our favorite meals (my favorite memory) from our cruise in my next post!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Cruising - The Basics

So, my laptop is still down, but I'm sharing my hubby's computer so I can get back to blogging.  I thought it was broken beyond repair, but apparently it was just the hard drive.  I guess I'll have to wait to get that MacBook Pro I've been dreaming about...

A lot of my photos are sitting on my memory card waiting to get transferred when my computer is up and running, but never fear, I have culinary stories to share in the meantime!

E and I recently went on a cruise to the Bahamas.  We're huge fans of cruising for several reasons:

1.  It's (almost) all-inclusive.  Your food, lodging, transportation and entertainment are included.  You only pay extra for gratuity, alcohol, excursions and any other optional luxuries.
2.  You don't have to drive!  Your cruise ship is your floating hotel.  For two long-distance commuters, this is a match made in heaven.
3.  You get to disconnect completely.  Your mobile phone will not work at sea.  You won't be able to check your email. 
4.  The scenery.  I love blue water.  With our balcony cabin we get our own private ocean-front room for an entire week.  Paradise.
5.  Low-stress.  No worries about where you'll be eating dinner.  There are plenty of places to eat around the clock and plenty of choices.  There's always something to do, whether you're a night owl or an early riser.  You don't have to do much planning beyond booking your trip.

Freeport, Bahamas
We went on our first cruise back in 2006 (Royal Caribbean, Empress of the Seas to Bermuda).  Our second cruise was in 2009 (Carnival Pride, Bahamas) and we repeated that same itenerary in 2011.  Why did we repeat the same cruise?  Convenience and cost.

If you live in the Mid-Atlantic/Northeast, you have a choice between flying to Florida or the West Coast for your cruise or just leaving from a "home port".  Home ports are cruise ports within driving distance.  We have home ports in New Jersey, New York and Baltimore, all within three hours of our home in Delaware.  We opted for Baltimore because it's the closest and most affordable, plain and simple.  As a matter of fact, we've chosen home ports for all three of our cruises. 

Relaxing on a hammock on Embarkation Day... in the Baltimore Harbor!
As much as I love to cook, I think cruises can also be a great vacation for food enthusiasts.  While I'll admit that I missed my kitchen by the end of our trip, it was great to have people wait on us all week.  Room service?  Included.  Fancy, colorful cocktails?  Available 24/7 at prices no higher than your favorite bar at home.  Upscale dinner at an elegant steakhouse?  On this cruise, a reasonable upcharge of $30 per person (gratuity included).

The best part about dining on a cruise is the variety.  E loved eating hamburgers from the grill on the Lido deck  I preferred to switch it up every meal.  Once our dinner server learned that I liked the cheese plate as an appetizer, he had one waiting for me every night before dinner.  Want to eat breakfast twice in one day?  Go on a cruise.  Want to eat light, healthy food and run laps around the deck while at sea?  You can do that on a cruise, too.

A bad day on a cruise is still better than a good day at work!
I'll share more info about this specific cruise in my next post.  Does anyone have any fun vacations planned?  Any other cruise enthusiasts?  We still have one more little (road) trip planned for this summer!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


I'm still here!  My laptop hard drive died on the Fourth of July and I haven't been able to repair or replace it yet.  I had all of my documents and photos backed up on an external drive, but I lost all of my music!  I'm working on recovering everything and getting back up to speed with my blogging.  Bear with me!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

ShopRite + Phillies = Hunger Relief

Philadelphia-area readers, here's a link for an opportunity for you to give back to our community.  If you'll be in the area, please consider bringing a canned food donation to this event.

What's my connection?  I'm a ShopRite customer and I also write for ShopRite's blog, Potluck.  Oh yes, and you know we love the Phillies

Here is the official press release.  Hope that you can attend!:

Tailgate Party with ShopRite and the Phillies!

Join the ShopRite Potluck blogger team as they tailgate with ShopRite and the Phillies this Sunday, July 10th from 11 AM - 3 PM. Aside from a great game (Phillies v. Braves) and an excuse to hang with the Phanatic and Phillies legend Greg Luzinski -- both scheduled to appear! -- this event is also a food drive to benefit Philabundance, the Delaware Valley's largest hunger relief organization. So, come on down, learn to Can Can with your favorite Potluck blogger and the Phillies Ball Girls. Don't forget your canned food donation. Just look for the ShopRite Can Can 40th Anniversary truck, featuring the iconic Can Can dancers, located on Citizens Bank Way -- see you at the ball game!

Additional highlights of the day’s events:

LIVE 98.1 WOGL broadcast with The Breakfast Club hosts Valerie Knight and Frank Lewis;

A chance to win tickets to ShopRite Day at the Phillies on Sunday, August 28;

Food sampling and giveaways, while supplies last;

An appearance by the Phillies Phanatic*;

And… a special visit by Phillies legend Greg Luzinski*.

The event is open to the public; game tickets are not required to access the ShopRite Partners In Caring food drive on Citizens Bank Way.

ShopRite is a proud sponsor of the Phillies and a longtime friend to Philabundance, the largest hunger relief organization in the Delaware Valley. Through its ShopRite Partners In Caring program, ShopRite donates more than $2 million annually to food banks, such as Philabundance, throughout Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Delaware and Maryland.

ShopRite is also one of the many Phillies partners taking part in the Phans Feeding Families month- long initiative, aimed to help raise money and collect food to feed the 900,000 people in the Delaware Valley that are at risk of hunger each year. For more information, please visit families.

“Fighting hunger lies at the very heart of the ShopRite Partners In Caring program and we have enjoyed a long partnership with Philabundance, helping them to feed those in need throughout the Philadelphia region,” said Chris Magyarits, spokeswoman for ShopRite Partners In Caring. “Extending that partnership to include the Phillies with this event is a fun way to engage our customers in the cause and to bring awareness to the issue of hunger to the Philadelphia community.”

“ShopRite has long been a supporter of helping to feed those in need," said David Buck, Senior Vice President, Marketing & Advertising Sales, The Phillies. “We're proud to partner with them in this unique food drive, which is among the many outreach efforts included in the month-long Phans Feeding Families initiative.”

“Grocery bills tend to go up during summer months when the children are home, which poses a challenge for many families,” said Marianne Lynch, Director of Development for Philabundance.

“ShopRite Partners In Caring’s tailgate and food drive come at a critical time and will benefit the many families struggling right now in the Delaware Valley.”

*scheduled to appear
About ShopRite

ShopRite is the registered trademark of Wakefern Food Corp., a retailer-owned cooperative, based in Keasbey, NJ and the largest supermarket cooperative in the United States. With more than 230 ShopRite supermarkets located throughout New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Delaware and Maryland, ShopRite serves more than five million customers each week. A long-time supporter of key community efforts, ShopRite is dedicated to fighting hunger in the communities it serves. Through its ShopRite Partners In Caring program, ShopRite has donated more than $24 million to 1,700 worthy charities and food banks since the program began in 1999. As a title sponsor of the LPGA’s ShopRite Classic, ShopRite has raised more than $23 million for local schools, hospitals and community groups. For more information, please visit

About Philabundance

Philabundance reduces hunger and food insecurity in the Delaware Valley by providing food access to people in need in partnership with organizations and individuals. Philabundance provides a full plate of services to close to 500 member agencies in 9 counties, who serve approximately 65,000 people per week at an aggregate cost of 50 cents per meal. There are more than 900,000 people in the Delaware Valley who are at risk for chronic hunger and malnutrition. In 2010, Philabundance distributed 21 million pounds of food. For more information about Philabundance, visit or call 215-339-0900.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Brined Pork Loin

I really thought I knew how to cook a pork loin.  I wrote this recipe a few years ago and I was so excited to share it on my blog.  While that original recipe is really good, I will admit that when you know better, you do better, so I'm proud to say that I'm a brining convert.

It all started when Pioneer Woman posted this recipe for brined turkey last Thanksgiving.  I forwarded it to my mom and asked if she'd consider brining the Thanksgiving turkey.  Long story short:  mom brined the turkey, it was beyond delicious and now mom and I are both big fans of PW.

My new mantra on pork loin is if you have the time, then brine.  You can absolutely get moist, flavorful pork (or turkey) without brining, but with a little advance planning you can pretty much guarantee that your meat will come out perfectly.

So, what is brining?  It's soaking raw meet in a sweet salty solution for a day (or a few days) prior to cooking.  The meat doesn't end up salty, but it does get flavorful throughout and stays moist after cooking.  Brining gives you a lot more leeway when cooking foods like turkey breast or pork chops, which tend to dry out if you cook them a few minutes too long.

My first reaction to brining was that it must be really difficult.  First of all, who in the world would use all that salt and sugar on meat?  Also, how am I going to cool this hot brine down in time to pour it on my food?  It's just too much.

I was wrong, it was easy.  Trust me.

First you dump your salt, sugar and other flavorings in a pot.  For this brine I used whole coriander seed (picked it up at the farmers market for a few dollars - you can find it at any well-stocked grocery store), whole black peppercorns, garlic cloves and an orange.  Yes, I know, that's quite a combination!

Then I poured in a quart of water and brought the whole mixture to a boil. 

Once the salt and sugar dissolved, I removed it from the heat and cooled the whole mixture down with about four cups of ice. Then I put a big zip-top bag in a bowl (just in case it decided to rupture and cause a salty waterfall in my fridge), put the pork in the zip-top bag and poured the brine into the bag.

I put the whole bowl in the fridge and went on with my life.  I worked a few days.  I ate at Chick-fil-a.  Bought some cds at Target.  I almost forgot that I had dinner marinating in my fridge.

After a day or two, I pulled the pork out of the brine.  I grabbed some fresh rosemary from my garden, chopped it up and rubbed it on the pork. 

I drizzled a little olive oil on the pork, then roasted it (fat side up, so all the goodness could saturate the meat) for about 45 minutes...

Let it rest a few minutes before you slice it, or the juices may run all over the place.

But, when it's ready to slice...

Slice it thinly.  Or thick.  I like thin slices for sandwiches and thicker slices for eating straight up.  We enjoyed our pork loin with Yukon gold mashed potatoes, then put the leftovers on jalapeno cheddar bread for sandwiches for lunch.  Yeah... it was good.

Now, a few words of warning.  You should probably give the meat a quick rinse after brining, just to make sure it doesn't come out too salty.  Also, if you're using previously frozen meat (boneless skinless chicken comes to mine) please, please double check to make sure it wasn't already brined before it was frozen (read the package).  'Cause you may end up brining some already brined chicken.  And that would be salty... not that I did that or anything.

So, if you're short on time and you want to serve pork loin, go for Roasted Pork Loin with Herbs and Garlic because you don't have to marinade it in advance.  If you are planning ahead (maybe you are using a menu plan for the week), then try the brine!

Oh, and I know some people don't like to use their ovens in the heat of July, so try this one on the grill, too!  Just sear it over high heat first, then move it to the medium  heat on your grill.  Cook it covered until the internal temperature is around 160 degrees.  The recipe below is for the traditional roasted version that you can cook any day.

Brined Pork Loin
a Keeley original
serves 6

One, 3-pound pork loin
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup kosher salt (I use Diamond brand - It's like $1 a box, buy it.)
4 garlic cloves, smashed
1 orange, sliced
1 Tablespoon coriander seeds (optional)
2 Tablespoons black peppercorns
4 cups water
4 cups ice
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Day one

Preheat a medium pot to medium-high heat. 

Toast coriander seeds (if using) in the dry pot for about 30-90 seconds, or until fragrant.  Add brown sugar, salt, garlic cloves, orange peppercorns and water.  Increase heat to high and bring to a boil.

Stir until sugar and salt are dissolved, then cut off the heat.  Pour ice into the brine and stir until dissolved.  Brine should be lukewarm or cool.

Place the pork loin in a large zip-top bag and place the bag in a bowl.  Pour the brine over the pork.  Put the pork in the refrigerator for at least 24 hours, up to 36 hours.

Day two (or three, or four)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Remove pork from brine.  Discard brine and quickly rinse pork.

Place pork on a roasting pan (preferably on a roasting rack), fat side up.  Rub olive oil and rosemary on all sides of the pork. 

Roast pork (fat side up) for 40-50 minutes, or until golden brown and internal temperature reads about 160 degrees.

Let pork rest for at least 15 minutes before slicing and seving.
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