Author: James Cooper

Comparing Python Tkinter and PyQt5

Comparing Python Tkinter and PyQt5

TkInter is the well-known GUi system based on the Tk toolkit and interfaced to Python so that it has become the preferential GUI interface system. PyQt5 is an analogous user interface developed and support by Riverbank Computing, and is essentially a set of bindings for the QT platform developed by the Qt company. PyQT5 is available under a GNU GPL v3 license, or as a commercial license. This essentially means that you can use PyQt5 freely, but you must distribute your source code with any product you build using PyQt5. Or, you can buy a commercial license.

GUI using Tkinter

GUI using PyQt5

The two figures above show the same interface developed in Tkinter and PyQt5. They show that you can build pretty much the same kind of GUI with either system.  I spent a week learning PyQt5 and building the new interface to match the one I had already built in Tkinter. Each system has different advantages and disadvantages, and we’ll summarize them in the article that follows.

The tkinter version is fully integrated with the database, but I only bother to connect the right hand searchbox and listbox to the database in PyQt5. The rest are just hardcoded,

But basically, the systems do about the same things and are about equally easy (or hard) to use, and you can’t go wrong using either of them. There was no clear winner of this experiment: once you have climbed the learning curve you can build nice-looking systems either way.

I built the Tkinter version of this interface as part of a larger development project to interface our opera company’s data to a new MySQL database, where building a UI gave us the ability to view the information in more flexible ways. This screen represents a way to create a cast list for the current and previous shows and generate spreadsheets of those casts for the Board , the cast and the directors to work with. The left-hand table is the final cast, sorted by role-type and sex, which amounts to one simple database query.

It allows you to select any person in our database and assign them a role in the current or an older production.

I learned how to use PyQt5 from the on-line PyQT5 reference guide as well as from this short tutorial by Michael Herrman. He has also written a book on PyQt and there is a link to it at the bottom of the tutorial.  The Zetcode tutorial was also helpful. There is also a video tutorial at learnpyqt.com.

If you want to build a GUI using listboxes, buttons and checkboxes, you won’t have any trouble with PyQt. In fact, since the listbox automatically includes a slider, you will find it a bit easier.  It is also worth noting that all PyQt widgets have Tooltips: helpful phrases that can explain what a widget is for.

I already noted that the QRadioButtons work better if you derive a class that holds the button index or title, using a Mediator pattern.

Layout managers

Tkinter has two major layout managers, pack() and grid(). Pack arranges the objects in the frame you provide. Grid allows you set up an n x n  grid and place the objects in one or more grid cells.

PyQt5 has three layout managers: QHBoxLayout, QVBoxLayout and QGridLayout. You can add widgets to the box layouts and they will line up horizontally or vertically. The QGridLayout is similar to, but not the same as, the tkinter grid. The biggest single difference is that if you place a widget in a grid cell, it expands to fill the entire cell. In order to put a button in a grid and not have it stretched to fill the cell, you have to add a QHBoxLayout inside the cell and then perform a hbox.addStretch(1) before and after the button to center it. These are essentially spacers that grow to fill the space on either side of the widget.

QtDesigner

PyQt5 provides the QtDesigner app which allows you create layouts visually. It actually includes layouts, and you can at least look at what code it generates. However, the resulting file is of type .ui and you have to run the pyuic5.exe program to convert the .ui file to a Python file. Once you have done this and edited the Python file, you can never go back to the designer.

Events in Qt5 are referred to as signals and slots, where the event is a signal and the callback function is a slot.  You can easily write analogous programs in PyQt5 to handle events much as you do in tkinter. You can also do this in the QtDesigner, but the event interface in the designer is a lot of trouble to use. Writing the code yourself is easier, and you probably would want to modify the code anyway. And, again, once you change the code, you can’t do back to the designer.

PyQt5 Style Sheets

While PyQt5 widgets have a plethora of useful methods, the designers left out such things as changing colors and borders. For this you have to resort to CSS (Cascading Style Sheets).  You can find a whole web page of Qt5 CSS examples here.

For example, suppose you want a label to be blue instead of black. In tkinter, you would write:

lb1 = Label(cFrame, text="Character", foreground='blue')

But in PyQt5, you would have to write.

lb1 = QLabel("Character")
lb1.setStyleSheet("QLabel { color : blue; }")

This sets the style for all instances of QLabel, but you can specify an individual label as well.

A more difficult case was setting the border of the GroupBox (which is the same as a tkinter LabelFrame). I also changed the color of the text label here too.

self.app.setStyleSheet("""QGroupBox {border:1px solid black;
    margin-top: 10ex;  padding: 15 3 px; }""")
self.setStyleSheet("QGroupBox::title {"
                     "color: blue;"
                    "background-color: transparent;"
                    "padding-top: -50px;"
                    "padding-left: 8px;} ");

Setting these style sheets can be tricky because you do not get any errors if you leave something out, like that terminal semicolon.

Listboxes and Model-View-Controller

PyQt5 has a list box, a table widget and a separate Treeview widget. While each of them can be used as stand-alone widgets, they also can be used in the Model-View-Controller system, where the data is the Model, the widget is the View and the Controller is the user or some external event. Essentially this is useful when the data changes frequently and this will cause your table to be refreshed automatically. I haven’t tried this out yet, as it takes quite a bit of programming. However, there are list and table widgets you can use without getting into using MVC.

I found the table display troublesome, because while you could remove the gridlines and left hand column numbers, the lines were quite widely separated.  After consulting the informants on Stackoverflow, I found that you could code the line spacing a line at a time. It turns out that the height of each row is calculated from the top of the table, so for each row, you have to calculate it as follows:

self.castTable.setRowHeight(row, (row + 2) * 7)

It turned out, however, that the spacing in the Treeview looks a lot better, and I am switching to that.

Conclusions

Tkinter is better documented and may a bit easier to work with. But there are more widgets in the PyQt5 library, including date editors, a progress bar, a slider, a font picker, a toolbar, and a multiline text entry field. It also supports the MVC pattern and includes Tooltips, which might be helpful for new users. While Herrman felt there was a difference in the clarity of the widgets, I didn’t notice it.

PyQt Radio Buttons and the Mediator Pattern

PyQt Radio Buttons and the Mediator Pattern

In our previous article, we showed how to derive a new class from QRadioButton that keeps the index value of that button and keeps the click event callback right in the class itself.

In this simple article we are going to look at an easy program that fills an entry field with a text string based on which radio button you select. We also introduce you to the Mediator Design Pattern to help communication between widgets.

We came up with this little trick while writing a program to create a cast list for our operetta company. Leads play named roles, but for chorus member we just store their voice part. The radio buttons are labeled S, A, T and B, and when you click on one of them, the entry field is filled with the full name of that voice part: Soprano, Alto, Tenor and Bass. Since the entry field is editable, you can add more text like “2nd Tenor” where this might be useful, and that name is stored as part of the last list. 

Using a Mediator

When you click on any of the RadioButtons, the long name is copied into the entry field. The question is, how does it get there?  In effect, each of the four button instances need to communicate with the entry field. And, while that is not difficult to achieve, it doesn’t scale very well as your program grows to include more visual widgets. To simplify this problem, you use the Mediator Design Pattern and the Mediator class.

Rather than the various controls all sending information to each other, the Mediator class becomes the traffic cop that receives the various button clicks and other widget actions. Then, it knows about the other controls you might want to communicate with and passes the click information on to them. So, when we create instances of the derived vcRadioButton, you pass it the label it displays, the long name it is to send on to the entry field and a reference to the Mediator class:

You first create the Mediator and give it a reference to the entry field  (which is called QLineEdit in PyQt5):

# create the entry field
self.entry = QLineEdit()
grid.addWidget(self.entry,0,0)

# Create Mediator and
# pass it the entry reference
self.med = Mediator()
self.med.setEntry(self.entry)
# Create a GroupBox for the four radio buttons
self.voiceBox = QGroupBox("Voice part")
vcGrid = QGridLayout()

Then you create the buttons and pass each of them a reference to the Mediator

# create the four radio buttons and labels
vs = VcRadioButton("S", "Soprano", self.med)
va = VcRadioButton("A", "Alto", self.med)
vt = VcRadioButton("T", "Tenor", self.med)
vb = VcRadioButton("B", "Bass", self.med)


# and add them to the 2 x 2 grid
vcGrid.addWidget(vs, 0, 0)
vcGrid.addWidget(va, 0, 1)
vcGrid.addWidget(vt, 1, 0)
vcGrid.addWidget(vb, 1, 1)

Then we add the vcGrid to the voiceBox layout, and the voiceBox to the outer grid.

self.voiceBox.setLayout(vcGrid)
grid.addWidget(self.voiceBox, 1, 0)
self.setLayout(grid)

The VcRadioButton class

Our actual VcRadioButton class is even simpler than the one we wrote for the six radio button example, because we don’t have to store anything in a class variable: we just tell the Mediator that the button has been clicked.

class VcRadioButton(QRadioButton):
    def __init__(self, label, title, med):
        super().__init__(label)
        self.title = title  #save the title
        self.med = med      # and copy the Mediator reference
        # connect the button clicks to the comd method                                                   
        self.toggled.connect(self.comd)

    # returns title stored in this class instance
    def getTitle(self):
        return self.title
    # gets the title and puts it in the character entry field
    # using the Mediator
    def comd(self):
        radio = self.sender()   #get the button you clicked
        if radio.isChecked():   # if checked copy the title
            self.med.setVoice(radio.getTitle())

Note that the VcRadioButton connects the click event (called toggled in Qt5) to the comd method right there in the same class. And that comd method tells the Mediator to set the voice part into the entry field.

Then finally our Mediator is simple, since we are only mediating connections between radio buttons and the entry field. When the radio button is clicked, it calls the setVoice method in the Mediator, which copies the text into the entry field.

# The Mediator saves a reference to the entry field
# and copies text into the field when setVoice is called

class Mediator():
    # save the entry field reference
    def setEntry(self, entry):
        self.entry = entry
    # copy the text into the entry field
    def setVoice(self, text):
        self.entry.clear()
        self.entry.insert(text)
 

This may seem like a lot of running around to copy text into an entry field, but the Mediator quickly becomes quite important when your program needs to handle interactions among a number of widgets, such as list boxes, push buttons and check boxes. It is probably the most useful and significant of the 23 Design Patterns when you are writing user interfaces.

Improving the Radiobuttons in Python Qt5

Improving the Radiobuttons in Python Qt5

PyQt5 is an alternative GUI interface for Python that you can use instead of Tkinter. Both systems provide ways to create buttons, listboxes, tables, checkboxes and radiobuttons. PyQt5 has a number of advantages, though, including built-in Tooltips. Coding for PyQt is in general as easy or easier than for tkinter, but there are some quirks.

One place where you might find it more troublesome is in the way that it handles Radiobuttons. So, in this article, we show you how to make the QRadioButton class a little friendlier.

Now, the idea of a Radiobutton is that you can only select one button, just like old car radios. This interface is now displayed on some screen in your car, rather than by actual push buttons. But the idea is that if you pick one, any other selected button is unselected.

If you have more than one group of Radiobuttons on a page, you want to find a way to group them so that clicking on a member of one group doesn’t affect the other group. In Tkinter, you do this by associating all the members of one group with a single external variable. Then, whatever button you click changes the value of that variable. So, if you have three buttons, the variable might take on the value 0, 1 or 2.

In Qt5, you group the variables by putting them inside a frame or Groupbox. And how do you find out which on was clicked? You have to run through them all to look for which one’s isChecked() status is true. Now, if there are only two buttons this is simple: you only need to check one button. If its status is false, then the other one must be true. 

But what if you have six or more buttons like in this interface for storing cast members in an operetta?

Figure 1: Six radio buttons used in generating a cast table.

In the tkinter approach, you just take the value of that external variable. In PyQt5, you would have to run through them individually or put them in an array (or List) and run through that.

But here is where we have a cooler solution. The QRadioButton is a first class object and you can create derived classes from it really easily. So, all we need to do, is create a RlRadioButton derived from QRadiobutton which contains an index value for each instance of the button. So, we could write

Lead = RlRadioButton(“Lead”, 0)
MinorLead = RlRadioButton(“Minor lead”, 1)

And so forth.  We can then keep the index of the each button in an instance variable: self.index.

class RlRadioButton(QRadioButton):|
    clickIndex = 0    # key of last button selected stored here

    def __init__(self, label, index):
        super().__init__(label)
        self.index= index

Note that the variable clickIndex is a class-level variable There is only one copy of this variable, shared by all six instances of the RlRadioButton class. But how does this variable get set?

It gets set when you click on that RadioButton. We connect the click event for each button to the same method within the button class.

self.toggled.connect(self.onClicked) #connect click to onClicked

The toggled event occurs whenever you click on a button. The event occurs on the button you click on AND on the button which becomes deselected. So, you must check to see whether the button is selected. If it is selected, this method copies the index of that button in that instance into the class variable clickIndex.

#store index of selected button in class variable
def onClicked(self):
    radio = self.sender()
    if radio.isChecked():   #if it is checked, store that index
       
RlRadioButton.clickIndex = radio.getIndex()

So, what is happening is that there are six instances of RlRadiobutton, one for each button. Each instance has a different index number, and if the button for that instance is clicked, it copies its index into the class variable clickIndex they all hold in common. Then, to find out which was selected you simply check the variable RlRadioButton.clickIndex from anywhere in the program.

We illustrate these instances of the RlRadioButton in Figure 2 below, where button 1 was selected.

Figure 2: Three instances of the RlRadioBtton class, showing that they all have access to the same clickIndex class variable.

This shows that while there are three instances of RlRadioButton with three different indexes, there is only one copy of clickIndex that all instances of the RlRadioButton class share.

In Figure 1, you can click on the Status button to see which Radiobutton was selected. The program then fetches that value from RlRadioButton.clickIndex and displays it in a message box using this somewhat verbose message box code:

msg = QMessageBox()
msg.setIcon(QMessageBox.Information)
msg.setText("Role index: "
        + str(RlRadioButton.clickIndex))
msg.setWindowTitle("Status")
msg.setStandardButtons(QMessageBox.Ok )
retval = msg.exec_()

and displays the result in that message box.

Figure 3: The status message box.

So, to conclude, the best way to query a large list of QRadioButtons is by deriving a class which can save the current index and asking the class for the index of the last selected button.

Is that poison ivy?

Is that poison ivy?

Yes, the above picture is definitely of poison ivy. In this late spring/early summer season, the question “is that poison ivy?” comes up really often on-line and in real conversations with actual people. The slogan “leaves of three, let them be” is a little too general to be helpful and even then people still seem to be confused and hesitant.

The pictures here are of real poison ivy taken in June in southern Connecticut.

Note carefully from the photo– poison ivy has three leaves: the center one is symmetrical and the outer two are asymmetrical, with jagged edges along the outside. Just as important, the stems of the outer two leaves do not run through the center of the leaf, but are located closer to the inner side of the leaf. This is a distinguishing feature you can look for when you can’t decide whether or not you are looking at poison ivy.

Younger leaves may be reddish and shiny, but more mature leaves are just green. And the amount of the irritant urushiol is the same on plants of any age.

creeper-2

Now let’s look at the above picture of Virginia creeper, a 5-leaved plant that doesn’t look anything like poison ivy. The problem is that Virginia creeper frequently grows right alongside or among poison ivy plants, and though it is not an irritant itself, you can regard it as a warning that poison ivy may be nearby. You can see that in the next two photos.

You will also see poison ivy climbing trees. What you may not see at first is the huge hairy rope-like stem the leaves grow from. The whole root also contains the same urushiol oil and if you grab that rope to steady yourself while gardening, you need to go wash your hands and arms right away. Even in the winter, these “ropes” still can spread the urushiol irritant.

Jewel weed

impatiens_capensis_photo2_lgIf you have jewel weed (a wild impatiens variety) growing wild nearby, many people report that the juice from the stem will help remove the urushiol and reduce skin inflammation. This was supposedly a Native American remedy and has at least some utility if you can get to hot soapy water right away. However, it does not seem to have been studied. If you develop a rash, lotions like Calamine will help reduce the itching.

In your garden

Poison ivy has the annoying habit of showing up in your gardens from time to time.

in pachysandra

This happens more every year as the carbon dioxide level in the atmosphere increases, and poison ivy loves it. You could put on heavy gloves and a heavy shirt and pull out the plants, but this usually leaves some roots behind which will eventually regrow. You can definitely kill poison ivy with Roundup, but in the garden it might kill valuable plants as well. A better choice is one of the commercial poison ivy killers: they all seem to contain triclopyr. This will kill broad leaved woody plants like poison ivy but leave grasses and the like alone.

Be careful in handling poison ivy debris: it all contains urushiol. Put the waste in a trash bag, never in the compost pile. And never burn it, since the smoke itself could still contain urushiol

Poison Oak and Poison Sumac

There are two other plants that secrete urushiol: poison oak and poison sumac. Poison oak has groups of 3 leaves that look rather oak like. Poison sumac is best recognized by the bright red stems. The Eastern variety has a rather short habit, while on the west coast, the bushes grow much taller. WebMD has very good pictures of all three plants. You will usually find poison sumac in or adjacent to swaps and wetlands, so unless you trudge through swamps you are less likely to see it.

Pacific poison oak is found mostly along the U.S. west coast, and eastern poison oak is mostly found in the southern U.S. It is somewhat similar to poison ivy and sometimes mistaken for it.

We try donuts made with Greek yogurt

We try donuts made with Greek yogurt

Bon Appetit recently published a delicious recipe for cake donuts made with Greek yogurt, which they called “yonuts.” The yogurt gives them just a little tang, and they are quite simple to make. You can probably have warm donuts for breakfast in about half an hour.

So, their recipe is

  • 2 ½ tsp baking powder
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 1 cup Greek yogurt
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • 2 Tb melted unsalted butter, cooled
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 5-6 cups vegetable oil for frying (peanut or canola)
  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • Zest from ¼ lemon
  • ¼ cup water (or less)
  1. Mix the dry ingredients in one bowl
  2. Mix the egg yolks, yogurt, melted butter together with a whisk
  3. Mix in the granulated sugar and vanilla extract.
  4. Slowly add the flower mixture and mix with a whisk, or eventually a wooden spoon. The batter will be a bit stiff.
  5. Roll out the batter on a flour board or floured parchment. You may need to flour the top side, too.
  1. Cut out the donuts using a donut cutter, or a circular cookie cutter. In the latter case, we found you could dig out the donut hole with a cookie scoop. Dust off any excess flour before frying.
  2. Heat the oil to 350˚ F (use a thermometer) and cook the donuts 3-4 at a time. BA suggests 2 minutes per side, but we found that a bit too long. We recommend 1 to 1 ½ minutes per side. Turn them when they are brown.
  3. Drain the donuts on a wire rack until cool.
  4. Meanwhile, mix the powdered sugar with water until it is thin enough to dip the donuts in, but don’t overdo it. Mix in some zest from ¼ lemon.

frosting

  1. Dip both sides of each donut in the icing and let them dry briefly.  Eat at once.

We ate them as soon as we could. This recipe makes 9-10 donuts. They are still pretty good the second day. You should probably rewarm them in the microwave for 15 seconds or so.

Meal kits: we try out “Gobble”

Meal kits: we try out “Gobble”

Previously we have written about Freshly, a meal delivery service that provides completely prepared, microwavable meals, and we weren’t all that thrilled. This article is about meal kits, which send you the ingredients and simple preparation instructions.

There are an awful lot of meal services out there trying to get you to subscribe, and one of the better rated ones is strangely named “Gobble.” Their slogan is “Make dinner in 15 minutes,” and this seems to be about right. We ordered three meal kits for two, for $73.93, or $24.64 each. They come delivered iced, but not frozen and so well sealed, they lasted nearly a week in the refrigerator until we’d tried all three. You will probably need a couple of cooking pans, a bowl or two, and perhaps a knife to chop up salad ingredients.

Spring Pot Roast

The first one we tried was “Spring Pot Roast,” with fava beans and asparagus. The meal kits come in several little sealed packages, one for the beef, one for the legumes. The asparagus was loosely packaged, but fresh, and the other envelopes were a red wine demi-glace, a shallot-garlic confit (which seemed to have little flavor), lemon gremolata and fried garlic bits.

Putting this one together was pretty simple. You put the beef cubes, red wine glace and some water in a covered pan and cook for five minutes.  Meanwhile, you cut the asparagus into short “batons.” You saute the beans as asparagus in a little oil and then add the garlic confit.

You put half of the beans-asparagus mixture on each place, divide the beef mixture over them and garnish with the lemon gremolata and fried garlic.

I found it pretty good, although my wife didn’t agree. Each portion was nominally 560 calories, and it left us feeling hungry. Of the three dinners, we liked this one the least.

Fortunately, the overall package came with two cookie dough puck that you could bake into cookies in 14 minutes, and we did.

Miso Glazed Pulled Pork Sandwich

pork plated

Our second meal was the miso glazed pulled pork sandwich with Gochujang aioli. It was really simple to put together. First you toast the brioche bins in a pan for a few minutes and set them aside. You heat the shredded pork, add the miso glaze and heat 2-3 minutes more. You chop up the lettuce, slice the Persian cucumber and mix with the shredded carrots to make a bit of a salad that you dress with Nuoc Cham (fish sauce). This salad was also to contain the cilantro which we decided to omit.

Then you put the supplied mayonnaise in a small bowl and add the gochujang paste, a mild Korean fermented red pepper paste. To assemble, you put half the salad on each plate, the buns on top, spread the mayo over the buns and distribute the pork among them. You can put a little salad on top as well, but there is so much pork it doesn’t all fit.

We thought these sandwiches were outstanding, and at 1120 calories each, were plenty filling.

Chicken Fettuccine Alfredo

chickn plated 2

This pasta dish also came with spinach and broccoli, and that same shallot-garlic confit the first meal also utilized. For this dinner, you brown a couple of small chicken breasts in a pan, and then roast them in the oven along with the broccoli at 450˚ F for six minutes. Then, you take out the chicken, simmer the broccoli with some water while covered, and then plate the broccoli while keeping the chicken warm. Oh, and that pan that was in the oven is going have a really hot handle, and burning your hand when you put the lid on is not improbable. And I’ve been cooking for 50 years! I think it might be better to steam the broccoli in a small saucepan instead.

Then, you boil the fettuccine, drain it and put it in the pan and add the spinach leaves and the alfredo sauce, along with that garlic confit. Finally, you plate the pasta and sauce and add the slice chicken breasts on top. You sprinkle with sone grated cheese, and most important, add the packet of chili flakes to keep the dish from being bland. We thought is was very good, and at 1050 calories it should have been more filling that it turned out.

Probably, my only real criticism with Gobble is that they are a weekly meal kit delivery service, but the deadline to make changes or skip a week is a whole week before. So, I ended up with another set of meals we hadn’t planned on arriving this evening, including one with a diminutive piece of salmon that looked like it wasn’t even enough for one. It says it weighs 10 oz.

Overall, we think Gobble is a very good meal kit service, and we will probably order more in the future.

 

 

 

 

We try ‘Freshly’: delivered meals of little distinction

We try ‘Freshly’: delivered meals of little distinction

Freshly has been advertising heavily on TV and the Internet, promising “meals cooked by chefs and sent to you fresh.” The meals aren’t terribly expensive, amounting to $8.99 per meal in small quantities and $7.99 per meal if you commit to 12 per week.

We too advantage of an introductory offer and ordered six meals, figuring that we would order the second six after we’d tried them out.  As you will see, we never got that far.

We placed our order on March 30 for 6 meals: two each of

  • Slow-cooked Pork and Herbed Gravy with Skillet Kale and Roasted Potatoes
  • Steak Peppercorn with Sautéed Carrots and French Green beans
  • Homestyle Chicken with Butternut Mac and Cheese

We got an acknowledgment that they would be delivered on Friday April 3, and they did come late that afternoon, but after our dinner plans had already been decided as homemade pizza.

The meals come packed in an insulated box surrounded by two sheets of frozen gelatinized water-ice. The meals were cold but not frozen and we quickly refrigerated them. Their literature says that they should keep for at least 5 days, or you should freeze them to keep longer. They also noted that we should use them fresh by the Use By dates, which were April 9 and 10. You can heat any of them up in the microwave in around 3 minutes.

Pork

Saturday April 4, we decided to try the Slow-cooked Pork and Herbed Gravy. We supposed there would be real pieces of pork in the dish, but it was for the most part present only in very small granular pieces, like bits of ground beef. These meals are not for hearty appetites, the pork dish was rated at 420 calories, and the portions were small. But we are dealing with the old Catskills joke here: “The food is terrible and such small portions.”

The pork mixture had an unpleasant aftertaste that grew with each bite. We found we had some leftover homemade applesauce in the refrigerator, and by alternating bites of applesauce with the pork mixture, we were able to finish eating it. The Skillet Kale was another story. While there are number of well-known techniques to reduce the strong flavor of kale, they didn’t seem to have used them. It allegedly contained turkey-bacon crumbles but we didn’t notice them. The taste was simply vile. We rated this dish as one of the worst dinners we had ever had.

steak

But we still had two more meals to try. Steak Peppercorn with Sautéed Carrots and French Green Beans seemed innocuous enough, so we had it for dinner on Tuesday April 7, long before the April 10 Use By date. The beef was actually Flat-Iron Steak, but their literature seemed to indicate that they had marinated it in something, so it was fairly tender.

beef cut opneHowever, by the third bite we knew we were in trouble. There was a taste and aftertaste that was so strong it began to make us feel nauseous, and we didn’t finish it. The carrots and beans were no better. My companion asked, “how can they screw up carrots?” They too had a different, unpleasant aftertaste and we ended up tossing both meals in the trash. The steak is supposed to be “topped with a creamy peppercorn sauce,” but we really didn’t detect this at all.

Since we hadn’t had much to eat, we broke out one of the Homestyle Chicken dishes, with Butternut Mac & Cheese. At first, we though this was going to be a winner, but by the third bite, the chicken tasted odd, although reasonably tender, and we couldn’t finish it either. The only thing we can say is that the mac and cheese was OK. But the green beans had the same off taste as the other vegetables, and we couldn’t finish them either. This may have been the “fragrant garlic oil” but we didn’t note any garlic flavor.

chicken

Now, we’ve eaten in lots of restaurants in a lot of places, and there have been a number of misfires in all those meals, but this is the only time we can think of where we really couldn’t finish the meals because they were absolutely terrible.

We immediately canceled our subscription to Freshly and they sent us nice polite acknowledgement. However, they’ve placed a cookie in our web browser’s database that keeps us from browsing their website further unless we renew our membership. This is unprofessional. Fortunately we have other browsers we could use to look up their prices and policies.

We obviously don’t recommend Freshly at all.

 

 

Quick lava cake in the Instant Pot

Quick lava cake in the Instant Pot

This very easy recipe was suggested by another (unsigned) online one. This is a simplified and briefer version. Even if you don’t want to go shopping just now, you probably already have the ingredients for this simple dessert. You just need chocolate chips, eggs, butter and sugar. There is no problem mixing some partial bags of various types of chips you might have around: they’ll all work fine.

  • ½ cup unsalted butter (1 stick)
  • 1 cup chocolate chips
  • ¾ cup confectioner’s sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 6 Tb flour
  • ¼ tsp salt
  1. Put the butter and chocolate chips in s medium mixing bowl and slowly melt them together in the microwave. I suggest 2 minutes at halt power and then may 30 seconds at full power. Stir with a wooden spoon. Add another 30 seconds if needed.
  2. Whisk in the sugar.
  3. Mix in the 3 eggs, one at a time and add the egg yolk,
  4. Add the vanilla
  5. Add the flour and mix until smooth. This whole thing will take about 5 minutes.
  6. Butter 4 ramekins or spray them with non-stick spray.
  7. Add batter to each ramekin using a large cookie scoop. We used two scoops for each one. Leave enough room for them to rise.

  1. Add 1 cup of water to the Instant Pot and set the four ramekins on the trivet.
  2. Close the pot and cook at high pressure for 9 minutes in a 6-quart pan, or 7 minutes in an 8-quart pan.
  3. Release the pressure quickly and let the cakes set for a couple of minutes.
  4. Run a knife around the rim of each ramekin and invert each one onto a plate. They should come right out.
  5. Serve with ice cream or whipped cream, with a side of slice strawberries of you have them.

cake uncut

You can make the batter ahead, or serve the cakes on two days, but the lave cakes are best served warm. But even cold, they are still pretty good!

ramekins

Ziggie and Mad Dog’s steakhouse—Islamorada

Ziggie and Mad Dog’s steakhouse—Islamorada

If you think that a steakhouse called Ziggy and Mad Dogs is not likely to be of interest, you may be partly wrong. According to the history on the menu, the restaurant was founded in 1952 as Ziggy’a Conch by Ziggy Stocki. And in 2005, Jim Mandich, who had played for the Miami Dolphins as “Mad Dog” Mandich purchased the restaurant. He and his partner Randy Kassewitz refurbished it and opened it as a steakhouse called “Ziggy and Mad Dog’s.”

While basically a steakhouse, the menu does include chicken, pork chops, veal chop and some seafood and pasta. The outside of the restaurant maintains the informality of the original, although the inside is somewhat more formal. But with ESPN playing on TVs in every room, it has a bit of a sports bar atmosphere about it, rather than the décor you might associate with charges approaching $200 for two (with tax before tip).

tables

Every few minutes a drop of water would fall on my head, probably from a leaking air conditioner in the ceiling, which I didn’t find endearing. The waiters are pleasant and knowledgeable, but as steakhouses go, we’ve had better for the same price range.

Our two salads: the Mad Dog Wedge and Mixed Baby Green with Goat Cheese (each $12) were good enough but not much better than you might find at Applebee’s. They also bore little resemblance to the photos on their website.

ribeye

Our Cowboy Ribeye ($40) had a crisp burnt crust and served with Bearnaise ($4 extra) was properly served medium rare. But with the crust obscuring the contours, it was difficult to delineate the bone to cut around it. However, the meat we found was juicy and tender.

medallions

The Smothered Medallions ($36) were easier to work with and more tender, as it was a filet mignon with caramelized onions, au poivre sauce and stilton bleu cheese. It was probably the better choice.

onion ringsIn our mind the Garlic Salted Onion Rings ($8) were the best thing on the menu. They were crunchy and dry to the touch and not a bit greasy. We were very impressed.

Our two scoops of gelato brought the bill to $189 before tip including two drinks and two glasses of wine.

Overall, this is a pleasant enough place, but we wouldn’t repeat the experience. There are so many better restaurants in the mid Keys to try.

 

Pierre’s: elegant dining in the Florida Keys

Pierre’s: elegant dining in the Florida Keys

Pierre’s, in Islamorada, is one of the most elegant restaurants in the Keys. Where informality usually reigns, Pierre’s features a more formal atmosphere with excellent French fusion cuisine and highly trained staff.

place settingPierre’s is situated in an old plantation-style house, with a lounge on the first floor and an elegant oak-paneled restaurant on the second floor. An elevator is available just behind the desk where you check in. On warm(er) evening you can also dine on the veranda, where you can also watch the lovely sunsets.

The dinner menu features vegetarian dishes, seafood, beef, chicken and lamb dishes as well as appetizers that include soup, salads, caviar, crudos, ceviche, charcuterie and a cheese board. While not inexpensive, dinner at Pierre’s will probably be the bets dinner you will have on the Florida Keys.

cheese platter

We started by sharing the cheese platter, which included s triple crème, a bleu cheese, and several harder cheeses, unfortunately not identified, fig mostarda, nuts, grapes and crostini. It was plenty for two, and a few bites for four, but everything was a rich and thoughtful selection.

grouper

For entrees, one of us chose the Local Catch Meuniere with Crab. The local catch was grouper, apparently only four hours out of the ocean, served with roasted fingerling potatoes, beurre noisette, haricots verts, Pierre’s garden parsley salad with pickled shallots, bell pepper rings and Meyer Lemon olive oil, and topped with crab. The fish was moist and tender with just a hint of acid from the Meyer lemon.

lobster curry

For our other entrée we ordered the Florida Lobster Curry, served, amusingly, in a coconut shell, over forbidden black rice and braised baby bok choy, all served with a Thai coconut curry sauce. This was certainly one of the most imaginative presentations we’ve ever seen, and the lobster was perfectly cooked without being in any way tough.

For desserts we ordered a traditional chocolate tart, which was chocolatey rich on an excellent crust, and a white chocolate cheesecake, which was both lighter and more flavorful the typical cheesecakes and definitely worth your attention.

Overall, our experience at Pierre’s was outstanding. The waiter and servers were courteous and knew what they were doing. Our only criticism was a long wait for the check.

Beware, however of their dark, unlit black spiral staircase, and take the elevator instead. It is really hard to see the steps. Be sure to ask if you can’t spot the elevator.

dining room