Photos of the Week

This week I have a collection of simple photos that I took at the Three Rivers Arts Festival a few weeks ago. I love when this yearly festival comes to Pittsburgh because it is such a wonderful way to support local artists and walk away with some fabulous and unique pieces of art! There is an artist’s market (which to me is the interesting part) as well as many local music events in and around the city. Make sure you check it out next summer if you haven’t yet!

Pittsburgh Best Restaurants Party

This past Monday I attended Pittsburgh Magazine’s Best Restaurants Party with a few friends of mine. We originally heard of the party a few months ago through Groupon and bought tickets right away, taking advantage of the 50% discount in price. On the day of the event, we arrived a little before the doors opened at 6 pm and there was already a line extending almost the length of Heinz Field. The event was held in both the East and West sections of the club level in Heinz Field. There were tables, one for each of the featured restaurants, set up along the scenic glass walls in each of the clubs. Overwhelmed by the number of restaurants and the volume of food available to us we came up with a small strategy. We parted ways to survey a few different tables, sizing up our options, then we made our selections, grabbed a few plates each, and reconnected at an empty table to share what we got. This way we could get to taste most of the offerings without wasting food or getting too full.

By the time we made it to the other club level, many of the restaurants had already run out of food. I had been to a few of those restaurants already though so thankfully it wasn’t the worst that could’ve happened. I tried so many dishes. Some exceeded every expectation (I’m still drooling over them) and some sadly disappointed (like a bland tasting kielbasa). Now I know what to move to the very top of my ‘Pittsburgh restaurants to try’ list… Dinette, Spoon, Paris 66, Cure… and so many more. I think there are about 30 restaurants on my list at the very least. They are all here in Pittsburgh too. Imagine the trouble I would be in if I lived somewhere like Philadelphia or New York where my list of ‘restaurants to try’ would extend off the notepad on my phone and out my front door. Good thing I live in the small but mighty city of Pittsburgh!

Once we were completely satisfied with full bellies, we took the shuttle over to the after party at Rivers Casino. It was my first time in the new casino. What a huge place! In addition to more food and free drinks, we were given $10 to play the slot machines. That will be the first and only time I gamble. How does anyone win on a slot machine? The most I won was $3 and it was all gone three spins later. I had always wanted to experience gambling, I had no idea what to expect. I tried it. It isn’t my thing. Now I know.

I’m sad that this event only comes once a year. I would go once a month if they offered it. It is such a great and easy way to try an incredible number of fabulous restaurants all in one night. Here are a few pictures from my adventures!

Photos of the Week

I have entered summer mode and have officially lost track of time. Days and nights float by. I am incredibly relaxed and  soaking in the sun and warm temperatures. Sometimes so much so that the day slips away and is gone before I have accomplished anything. That is one reason why I have been absent from my blog for so long. Other contributors are last weekend’s travels and that I have been quite caught up in a book I am reading. But I’m back now. With photos. Inspired from the fresh rhubarb we got in our weekly CSA box, I spontaneously whipped together a few personal size rhubarb crisps. Served with vanilla frozen yogurt that was on hand in the freezer. Enjoy!

 

Summer quiche and carrot salad

I have some delicious recipes to share! Inspired by what I hope is the legitimate and unfaltering arrival of warmer weather, I made a tasty summery meal. A light, fluffy quiche and a lemony carrot salad. They were easy to prepare (aside from the carrot grating) and easy to enjoy. First off… the quiche.

Summer Quiche

1 sheet pie crust (I used Pillsbury but you can get whatever brand if your favorite. Or if you are ambitious make your own crust!)

1/2 lb ramps

1/2 lb broccoli (feel free to use any veggie you like)

2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

1 c. skim milk

7 eggs

1 tsp freshly grated lemon zest

1 tsp kosher salt

a pinch of freshly ground black pepper

2 1/2 oz fresh feta cheese

Preheat oven to 375 degrees and thaw the pie crust as described on the package.

Prepare the ramps and broccoli by chopping it into small pieces. Heat up the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Once it’s hot, add the chopped ramps and broccoli and let it cook gently until the ramps become transparent and the broccoli gets a nice bright green color. Be careful not to over cook though because they will cook more while in the oven. Turn off the heat and let them rest.

In a bowl whisk together the eggs, milk, lemon zest, salt, and pepper until fully combined. Pay attention to the size of your pie pan when determining the correct number of eggs to use. I used a 9 in. baking dish with rather high sides so I had a lot of room to accommodate that much filling. It will rise just a tiny bit when cooking so If you have extra filling just leave it aside. You bake it in a small ramekin and use it to make a delicious egg sandwich for breakfast someday!

Once your pie crust is full thawed, lay it in your pie pan. Give the rim a little decorative pinch if you feel inclined to make it a little fancier. Distribute the veggies evenly around the bottom of the dish. Gently pour the filling over the veggies. Cut or crumble your feta cheese (I crumbled mine) and drop it into the filling as evenly spaced as you can make it. And again, feel free to adjust the amount of cheese you want in your quiche. I love cheese, and the feta I had was super fresh, made on a nearby farm, so I put lots in my quiche!

Bake for 30-40 minutes. The center should be solid and the crust and top should have a light golden brown color to them. Once it’s done, let it sit out to cool or a few minutes before you dig in and enjoy. Quiche tastes great at any temperature so this is a wonderful dish to make ahead for a party or for a nice brunch the following morning.

While the quiche was in the oven I prepared a lovely carrot salad, adapted from a recipe by (my favorite) Mark Bittman. This is also a dish that can be made ahead. If you do make it ahead though be sure you stir it every so often because the vinaigrette will settle to the bottom.

Carrot Salad

1 lb. carrots, grated

juice of 1 lemon

2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

2 tsp ground cumin, or to taste

about 1 tsp honey, optional

freshly ground black pepper and salt

Grate those carrots. To make things faster you could buy pre-grated carrots…

Whisk together the lemon juice, oil, and spices. Toss all the ingredients together and serve. So simple yet so scrumptious!

I hope you enjoy this lovely taste of summer!

Magnificent Banana Walnut Chocolate Chip Cookies

Last week there was a small collection of bananas getting oh-so-very ripe on my kitchen counter. There was no way I would’ve been able to eat them before they got too ripe… I had no choice but to make something with them. (Hardly a tragedy). Instead of baking a loaf of banana bread, the classic standby, I wanted to try a different route. Cookies. I did a little research on the internet and found this incredible recipe. Thanks Martha Stewart! It is to die for!!! Because I had more than one ripe banana, I doubled the recipe but that left me with an outrageous amount of cookies. I brought two overflowing plates of cookies in to work the next day and they were all gone very quickly. And received many rave reviews. I am definitely going to make these again, particularly if I am trying to impress!

Banana Walnut Chocolate Chip Cookies

recipe courtesy of Martha Stewart

makes about 3 dozen

1 c. all-purpose flour

1/2 c. whole wheat flour

1 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. baking soda

3/4 c. (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

1/2 c. granulated sugar

1/2 c. packed brown sugar

1 egg

1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

1/2 c. mashed ripe banana (about 1 large banana)

1 c. old-fashioned oats

8 oz. semi-sweet chocolate chips

1/2 c. (about 2 oz.) chopped toasted walnuts

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. If your walnuts are not toasted, do that now. They will taste much better. Simply spread them out on a baking sheet (that you can later use for the cookies) and slide them in the oven until they start turning a nice golden brown color and produce a lovely smell. I didn’t pay exact attention to how long it took me but I’ll estimate about 10 minutes.

In a small bowl, whisk together the flours, salt, and baking soda. Set that aside.

Using a mixer, combine the softened butter and the sugars until nice and fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla. Combine thoroughly, then mix in the banana. In a few batches, add the flour mixture until it is fully combined. Be careful not to over mix it though. At this point, I took the bowl off the mixer and stirred in the oats, walnuts, and chocolate chips by hand.

Spoon the dough on to the cookies sheets leaving a few inches between them because they spread out when they cook. My cookies dough balls were about an inch to an inch and a half in diameter. I think that is the perfect size for these cookies. Bake them for about 13 minutes until they have a light golden brown color and are just beginning to set. Let them cool in the pans for a minute or two before transferring them to wire racks for a complete cool down.

Since I made twice the amount as the recipe above calls for, I had enough cookies to save a few in my freezer and take the rest in to work. If you are planning on sharing, don’t feel guilty hiding a few for yourself for later. Trust me, you will be glad you did! Enjoy!! (I know you will.)

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!

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!

Iron Chef Initiative

Not too long ago, I set myself a life goal to dine at one restaurant of each of the American Iron Chefs. As a foodie and lover of all foods creative and delicious setting this goal for myself will ensure that I continue to try new restaurants no matter what sorts of excuses I try to come up with. Too far, too expensive, too cold, too tired… you know the schpeel. Thanks to the generosity (and love) of my Grandma and my parents I have already been able to check three Iron Chefs off my list: Chef Morimoto, Chef Garces, and, as of last night, Chef Forgione. Both Morimoto and Restaurant Marc Forgione I went to with my Grandma in New York City. Chef Garces’ restaurant Tinto I went to with my parents in Philadelphia. Considering that I visited all three of these restaurants within the past year, I’d say I’m on a good pace to successfully accomplish this goal.

 

Last night I dined at Restaurant Marc Forgione with my Grandma and sister after traveling to the big apple for yet another ballet company audition. The restaurant is located just one block from the Cambers St. subway stop in the heart of Manhattan’s TriBeCa neighborhood. The interior of the restaurant was dimly lit when I first walked in but as my eyes adjusted I no longer noticed that most of the light was coming from the large number of candles in the restaurant. Aesthetically placed of course. I also quite enjoyed the exposed brick wall I was facing and the large framed mirrors hanging on the walls to make the space feel larger than it actually was.

Our meal began with a delightful two-part amuse-bouche. One bite was a lovely candied beet with a touch of creamy goat cheese on top. The other was a small puffed dough filled with vegetable cream cheese. Both were incredibly dainty and delightful.

For my meal I took advantage of the “Sunday Supper” deal – 3 courses for $44. You could choose any dish listed on the menu too. It was much nicer to have a choice of 6 dishes for each course rather than the 2 or 3 choices you so often see on prix fixe menus. To start things off I chose iceberg lettuce with Shropshire cheese, jicama, and sherry vinegar. The cheese was of the blue-veined variety (which I absolutely adore) and was quite delicious. There was a little too much dressing on the salad for my taste – my lips involuntarily puckered a few times due to the acidity of the vinegar. But overall it was a wonderful light start to the meal and just the right amount of food for an appetizer.

Next came my entrée. Four slices of perfectly tender duck breast with a beautifully caramelized skin, resting on a bed of shaved red cabbage which was cooked until it was soft and sweet, pumpkin spaetzle that I dare say was deep-fried (how magnificent), and refreshing pieces of parsnip. Around all of this was a delicately sweet, vanilla-y reduction that also possibly was caramelized somehow. The dish was wonderfully rich and sweet but not overly so. It hit just the right spot.

For dessert, I continued my rich and sweet theme and gorged on banana “pecan pie” bread pudding, served piping hot with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top. Once I cracked through the layer of “pecan pie” topping the bread pudding, I was delighted by the fresh banana flavor that was waiting below. Boy was that dessert gone in a jiffy! I was too excited to eat it I didn’t even pause to take a picture.

What a fantastic meal! Three chef’s restaurants happily tasted, several more waiting to be enjoyed. Mario Batali, here I come!