Back to Baking. Photos of the week

It has been way too long since I have baked. Or cooked for that matter. The past two nights I ended my cooking drought by putting together quick meals for my self. One night, oven poached salmon with a nice salad and the next night a portobello mushroom stuffed with quinoa, peppers, thyme and cheese that I also baked in the oven. I seem to be loving the oven lately. Today I baked two delicious goodies: white chocolate chip brownies and lemon pine nut biscotti. Needless to say I was neglecting my desires. I photographed my baking as I went along in order to stop neglecting my photography hobby as well. I feel much more like myself again.

White Chocolate Chip Brownies

I adapted the recipe from Matt Bites.

1 stick of butter (8 tablespoons)

4 ounces unsweetened chocolate

1 ¼ cups sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

¼ teaspoon salt

½ cup flour

2 eggs

1 cup white chocolate chips (my addition)
Preheat the oven to 400˚ and prepare an 8×8 baking dish by either lining it with parchment paper or coating it with butter (like I did because I am admittedly too cheap for parchment paper. Plus it’s wasteful. Butter works great for me.) Melt the butter and unsweetened chocolate in a double boiler. If you are like me and don’t have one, put the ingredients in a glass or metal bowl and put that on top of a pot that has about an inch or two of water. Put the entire stack on the stove on a low heat so the water merely simmers. You don’t want it to boil! And make sure that he bowl is bigger than the pot so that it doesn’t fall in and so there is no steam rising around the outside of the bowl.
Once the butter and chocolate are melted and smooth, remove the bowl from the heat. Add in the sugar, vanilla and salt and mix well. Stir in the eggs one at a time. Add the flour and stir until everything is fully combined. then you can mix in the white chocolate chips and pour the batter into the baking dish. Put it in the oven for 20-25 minutes. Mine took closer to 30 minutes. I think the addition of the white chocolate chips adds more oil or moisture or something. For a fool-proof check, poke a toothpick in the brownies. If it comes out clean, they are done! Let them cool completely. I know it’s hard (I don’t always make it) but they will cut much better when they are cool. They are equally scrumptious and decadent on their own or paired with some quality vanilla ice cream.
Lemon Pine Nut Biscotti
This recipe I took from Delicious Days.
3/4 c.  pine nuts
7 tbsp butter (softened)
3/4 c. sugar
2 eggs
2 tbsp lemon juice
zest of one lemon
2 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
a pinch of salt
Set the oven to 325˚. Spread the pine nuts out on a baking sheet and put them in the oven for about 6-8 minutes until they are toasted and golden brown. Set them aside to cool. In a bowl beat the butter and sugar until light and creamy. Add the eggs, lemon zest, and lemon juice. Stir well. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the butter and sugar mixture and combine thoroughly. Once the ingredients are all combined, stir in the pine nuts. Divide the dough into two equal parts. WIth each part, shape it into a loaf/log type shape and arrange them side by side on a cookie sheet. I brushed my baking sheet (and hands) with flour because the dough can be kind of sticky. Make sure they are not too close to each other or the sides because the dough will expand slightly while baking. Bake for about 25 minutes, or until lightly browned, and take the pan out. Let the logs cool for a minute or two. One at a time, transfer the logs to a cutting board. Cutting on a slant, slice the logs into 1/2 inch slices and lay the slices back on the baking sheet. Put the slices back in the oven for 20 minutes, flipping them after 10 minutes. I added a few minutes to the baking time to give them a nice golden brown color. Remove the pan and let the biscotti cool on a wire rack. Store in an airtight container. Enjoy them with coffee and tea to soften them up or if you are a fan of crunchy foods like me, chomp away!

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Photos of the Week

Last weekend I traveled down to Houston, Texas for two auditions. It was my first time in Texas and I have to admit, I don’t really have any desire to go back. The auditions took place at Houston Ballet’s studios which are in the theatre district of downtown Houston. My hotel was only a few blocks away so I could easily walk and see what Houston had to offer. It was very empty on the weekend, which sucked for me because it left me with very little to do with the free time I had. On Sunday before I left I took a quick (and hot) walk around a few blocks of downtown to see if there was anything that inspired me to take pictures. I found a few interesting sights that I’m sharing with you below but overall I was just not impressed. Maybe that has to do with the fact that my auditions were a complete bust too… oh well.

Now I am at the airport again to travel to more auditions. My life has been so hectic and stressful lately. I know I skipped last week’s photo post… I just couldn’t find the time or extra energy to get around to it on time. I am dancing at work all day long then I come home physically exhausted and start organizing travel plans and dates for auditions which leaves me mentally exhausted and then the only thing I have stamina left for is a shower and sleep. This ridiculously stressful period is soon coming to a close and then I will be able to calm down and spend more time doing other activities that I enjoy. Until that time I apologize for any lack of excitement that my blog may have…

Photos of the Week

Hopefully this was the last snow fall of the year. I am so anxious for spring to truly start. It is one of my favorite seasons. I love the crisp temperatures of spring and fall, it’s very refreshing. That might stem from my love of layering clothes… I have quite a fondness for sweaters and light jackets. Let’s hope those days are coming soon!

Carnivorous Cravings

It’s not often that I find myself craving red meat. Being a ballet dancer and one who is very conscious of what I eat, my main sources of protein tend to be lean meats, fish, dairy, and nuts. I don’t avoid red meat, but it’s also something that I usually live without and don’t miss. Last week was different however. I found myself craving a big juicy burger. But not just any burger. I wanted a burger from BRGR. I had been driving by and hearing about BRGR for months and was anxiously awaiting my first visit. It certainly lived up to my lofty expectations! It had a nice rustic, southern interior and served all the burgers and sides in baskets lined with paper. I ordered the ‘Shrooms’ burger, done medium so it was a little pink still in the center, along with a side of fried pickles. I know right, fried pickles?? I was weirded out at first too but my friends urged me to give it a try. Risk well taken. It was a rather odd combination at first but the tangy taste of the pickles contrasted the doughy batter quite nicely.

As for my burger, it was perfectly done so that there was still a little pink in the middle and the juices were lavishly flowing. It melted in my mouth, bun and all. The mushrooms, caramelized onions, brie, and beef all sang so harmoniously. I was in love with each bite. Lastly, I got a hard milkshake to go along with my already gluttonous meal. Out of only four options, it was much easier for me to select a milkshake than to pick a burger (out of the 7 of those plus about 7 more non-beef options.) I selected the salty caramel shake: bourbon, caramel sauce, sea salt, and vanilla bean ice cream. yummmmmmy! I am so mad at myself for not making it to BRGR sooner!

Just two days later I made my way to try out Salt of the Earth mastermind chef Kevin Sousa’s new Pittsburgh dining creation, Union Pig and Chicken, a barbecue joint set up in a small space in East Liberty. It opened just at the end of February and is already forming lines at the door of anxious diners. I can shamelessly admit I have not had any true southern barbecue experience, but to my untrained taste buds this is exactly what I thought it should taste like. With a simple star-studded menu, diners can mix and match their choice of meats and sides. My dad and I ordered way too much food with the intention of having leftovers so that we could get a sampling of many things on the menu. On the meaty side of things we ordered ribs, grilled chicken, and pork shoulder because they were already out of brisket (after being open for one hour on a Saturday night.) All were delicious but I was most impressed by the level of moisture that was maintained in the grilled chicken. I can’t even think of how to describe it to you in words it was that perfect. For sides, we tried the baked beans, greens, cornbread, mac & cheese. The baked beans were undeniably freshly homemade and had a tangy sweetness along with pieces of meat swimming about. The greens were soft and garlic-y and, if I’m not mistaken, were cooked in some juices taken from the meats. because there was a hint of a smoky flavor to them. The cornbread was guiltily heavy on the butter but that just made it al the more dense and delicious. My favorite by far though was the mac & cheese. It came in its own personal sized dish with a crispy cheesy top. Underneath were the noodles drenched in a rich cheesy sauce that had more cheesy flavor than can be attained by just plain cheddar. I already know what my perfect meal will be when I go back… grilled chicken and mac & cheese. But you can’t go wrong with anything that this restaurant has to offer. For all of those Pittsburghers who have made it here by crossing the Mason-Dixon line, Union Pig and Chicken will provide you with that down-home feeling in your new hometown.

My goodness Mr. Flay

Goodness I have much to catch up on! I have been living quite the whirlwind life lately. I have a new job as a professional ballerina (HOORAY!!!!!!) that has me working 9 to 6 5 days a week and my weekends have been full of traveling and auditioning. I love being busy though. I certainly do get worn down, but when I am turned on and have a pile on my plate I can just go, go, go until it is all gone. This weekend I am home, no auditions, so I am going to use the time to catch up on some things I have been neglecting. Like this. I have a new Iron Chef to review and just last night I visited a new restaurant in Pittsburgh that was simply impeccable. Let’s begin!

Last weekend while I was in New York City auditioning, my Grandma spoiled me once again and took me out to eat at Bar Amaricain, Iron Chef Bobby Flay’s restaurant, located in midtown Manhattan. He has a second location in Mohegan Sun, Connecticut too. I have to confess I wasn’t blown away. I don’t know if I was expecting too much and set my standards too high or if I just did a really bad job ordering. To give Bobby the benefit of the doubt I am choosing to think that it was my poor ordering that caused the disappointment. It was all very tasty, it’s not that it tasted bad, it just overall left me feeling kinda blah. Like I could’ve gotten a meal like that at any other fancy restaurant. Or even in my own kitchen.

Because we went out to eat the night before my audition I didn’t want to eat anything too heavy that might make me feel sluggish or still full the next morning so I opted to get two appetizers. Usually for me that ends up being a perfect amount of food. I chose a lobster and avocado cocktail and a chopped vegetable salad with farmer’s cheese. The lobster and avocado cocktail was very refreshing. The lobster was nice and fresh and the avocado was perfectly ripe. It was dressed with a light dressing and some fresh herbs. Very simple. Everything was presented as promised but there was a lot left to be desired.

The chopped vegetable salad I have to say was the low point of the meal. I was expecting to get a lovely assortment of veggies like cucumbers and peppers and such but really what I got was a huge bowl filed mostly of shredded lettuce and cabbage. Not exciting. The dressing was light and barely noticeable (which I didn’t mind) and the cheese was sprinkled throughout in such little pellets that it was impossible for me to just pick that out and eat it by itself. What a bummer. I really could’ve made that by myself. I understand it is only an appetizer, but geez Mr. Flay, couldn’t you make it a little more out of my own culinary capacity? You are known for your bold flavors! Where are they??

As you can see in the background, my Grandma got an onion tart. That was pretty tasty. Finally something more exciting. I do think I could make that on my own too but it at least had some nice flavor and kept me excited bite after bite. It was topped with smoked salmon, giving it a very nice depth of flavor.

Since my salad was so mediocre, I didn’t eat much of it. I felt very unsatisfied. I decided to give dessert a try. Maybe he can tie some loose ends. Maybe. I was once again drawn to the banana bread pudding (just like I was while at my last Iron Chef restaurant: Marc Forgione). Marc Forgione’s was better, but it’s probably not very fair to compare, huh? Bobby Flay’s bread pudding was all one consistency. It was a little too much of a solid form for my taste. I would’ve preferred to be able to differentiate between the pieces of bread and the creamy pudding around them. The ice cream on top was so drab I honestly don’t even remember what flavor it was. The one high point of the dessert was the caramel sauce generously puddled on the plate. It was wonderfully sweet and had a really clean caramel flavor.

Overall Bobby dearest, I have to say I wasn’t impressed. Although I just ordered appetizers, I was hoping I would be awed enough that I didn’t leave wondering if I should’ve gone for just a main course instead so I could have at least left feeling satisfied. What a pity. I wish to give you another chance. A shot at redemption. But maybe I’ll try one of your other restaurants instead… Mesa Grill perhaps?

Better luck next time!

Photos of the Week

Once again I have a collection of photos from downtown Pittsburgh. Each time I explore a different few block of downtown, there is a unique quality that draws my attention. Here it was the buildings. Every where I looked I noticed something unique about one building that the others lacked. I love old architecture. Enjoy!