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Archive for April, 2009

A friend and I met up to chat, hang out, and enjoy the glorious weather earlier this week. We usually meet up for a glass of wine. However, we decided on ice cream instead. 90 degrees in Pittsburgh in April? You have to go for the ice cream.

With my friend’s adorable Airedale Terrier puppy in tow, we set off.  Oh Yeah! Ice Cream and Coffee Co. is located at 232 S Highland Ave, in Shadyside. The place is definitely quirky. I left my friend and her pup outside to snag a table (they have 3 or 4 nice tables that sit back a bit from S Highland) and I headed inside.

I had been to Oh Yeah! before – however, the place can still be a bit intimidating. As you enter, there is a huge chalkboard listing ‘mix ins’ for your ice cream. They literally have everything, including weird stuff like basil and wasabi peas and nostalgic/cool stuff like Cinnamon Toast Crunch. My pal had asked me to order her up a small sugar free vanilla with pumpkin pie spice and I quickly decided on a fruit smoothie.  The place boasts dairy and non-dairy options (as well as sugar  free options). Pretty neat. I do not believe the Oh Yeah! ice cream is made in house but seems of high quality.

As they mix everything in for you right there at the counter, the line can get a little backed up. Yet, soon enough our ice cream was ready (not super cheap, I believe $8 or $9 for our small order)  and I even snagged an organic dog treat (50 cents) for the pooch waiting outside.

The ice cream was enjoyed at an outdoor table with plentiful girlie convo.

The only problem with Oh Yeah! is that I can’t help but feel I am missing out on some awesome flavor combo every time I go there. I peruse the board for awhile and then order something lame, like a pineapple/strawberry smoothie (you could customize your smoothie with different fruit and liquid options). Sigh. Yet, a girl (woman) behind me in line actually starting doing a dance when she found out they had her favorite ‘birthday cake’ ice cream. This leads me to believe the place could possess addictive qualities if I can strike the right mix combo. Just another reason to head back there soon.

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Fellow Pittsburgher

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Never knew this guy was from the burgh.

Stack ’em and watch your family attack ’em!

I found the above pic here. According to the link, the Big City Slider Station may not be the way to go. Sad.

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The warm Pittsburgh weather had me recently searching for al fresco dining options. Having dined on the patio at Ibiza before (well into colder weather – its fairly enclosed and they have those glorious heaters), The Boy and I decided to head there yet again.

Ibiza is located at 2224 E Carson, next to Mallorca in Southside (owned by the same family/group) . It is right in front of you when you cross the Birmingham Bridge. They take reservations. This came in handy as most of Pittsburgh was clamoring to enjoy the summer-like weather this past weekend. A reservation scored us an 8PM table on the patio. ( To note, Mallorca also has outdoor seating).

Ibiza offers tapas style dining. The menu is lengthy – salads, cold tapas, hot tapas, some entrees, desserts. The wine list is fairly extensive and wine flights are offered. To start the meal, The Boy and I sampled an Italian wine flight. It included a Pinot Grigio, a Chianti, a Pinot Noir, and an Amarone. The samples were generous – enough for us to share the flight. We also ordered the Spanish meat and cheese plate, steamed clams, and wasabi crusted lamb chops. While we waited for the tapas, we threw in an order for a carafe of red sangria.

The meat and cheese arrived first. While everything was tasty, the plate was laden with olives. Lots and lots of olives. I like olives but was not aware this was going to a large component of the dish. I don’t believe the olives were mentioned on the menu. There was still plenty of sharp cheese and salty meat to devour – it just made me feel wasteful to leave all those olives there. Oh well.

The clams and lamb chops arrived next. The amount of clams was generous and the salty, briny, buttery broth they were steamed/bathed in was tasty. The waiter gladly brought additional crusty bread to sop it up (bread and a garlicky hummus are brought out at the start of the meal). The lamb chops were good, if a bit fatty. Three (maybe four) lamb chops had been grilled, slathered in a mildly sweet glaze, and then rolled in wasabi crusted peas. The combo was sweet, crunchy, and spicy.

The sangria was cool and refreshing – however, it seemed to lack any pieces of fruit. The Boy and I have had this happen multiple times (most recently at Tusca, in Southside Works).  I don’t really know what ‘authentic’ sangria is like, but I was under the impression it had real fruit in it (oranges, apples, pears?).  I like to munch that wine heavy fruit! Where is it?

Tapas don’t come cheap and our bill at Ibiza was a bit of a splurge for a casual dinner. The carafe of sangria and the lamb chop dish came in at about $20 each. Not an every night type of meal but not too bad either, considering we were drinking, etc.

Ibiza is trendy, sleek, serves pretty good food, and is located in the hot spot that is Southside. Tapas style dining is a little different, but nothing to be too afraid of. You will have to share and make some group decisions. In my experience, 1-2 tapas per person (balancing lighter and heavier options)  is usually a good way to approach ordering. And you can always order more!

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I am very glad The Boy is back in town. This means I eat much better on the weekends. It was close to 90 degrees in Pittsburgh this weekend. Craziness. I took full advantage of the lovely weather.

Saturday morning started with some hearty banana pancakes. We use a pretty standard pancake formula that The Boy developed himself.

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He has generously shared the recipe (serves 2):

½ C of Flour

¼ C of Wheat Flour

½ t of baking powder

1T of ground flaxseed

1 Egg

2/3 C of milk

½ t of vanilla (but I just estimate it)

Honey to desired sweetness (since I’ve never attempted measuring this out)

Whisk the dry and wet separately, then combine. Make them into pancakes. Once the one side is done, add the bananas and flip. Bout 30 seconds-minute each side.

Douse with syrup (Note: must be real maple syrup!) 

Feed to Julie.

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After the pancakes, it was off to the Strip District. We hit up Mon Aimee, Palate Partners, PennMac (where they had an actual Chowhound thread printed and hung on the wall!), Sunseri (1906 Penn), Stan’s (1811 Penn), and Right by Nature.

Dinner brought a favorite summer dish:  grilled pizzas. Utilizing the great stuff we got at the Strip, we made a roasted tomato, basil, and goat cheese pizza.

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And a BBQ chicken pizza:

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Verdict: While we have the technique down (TJs whole wheat dough rolled thin – onto the grill sans toppings – let cook – flip – add sauce and toppings – close grill lid and allow to get crispy for a few minutes) the jury is still out on our fav topping combos. The roasted tomato pizza needed a little something more and the BBQ chicken pizza could have benefited from the caramelized onions we forgot to add. 

After dinner, it was drinks (finished the pictured bottle and popped another) and this lovely view..

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This recipe is an oldie but goodie. The Boy and I love quick breads – banana bread, pumpkin bread….and this coconut banana bread.  The recipe is from a Cooking Light cookbook – so you don’t feel too guilty grabbing a second piece either! I made this to munch over the course of The Boy’s first weekend home.

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Coconut Banana Bread with Lime Glaze

 

Ingredients

 

2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup butter, softened
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups mashed ripe banana (about 3 bananas)
1/4 cup plain low-fat yogurt
3 tablespoons dark rum (You can sub about any kind of fruit juice)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup flaked sweetened coconut
Cooking spray
1 tablespoon flaked sweetened coconut
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lime or lemon juice

 

 

Preheat oven to 350°.

 

Lightly spoon the flour into dry measuring cups, and level with a knife. Combine the flour, baking soda, and salt, stirring with a whisk to combine.

 

Place granulated sugar and butter in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until well blended (about 1 minute). Add the eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Add banana, yogurt, rum, and vanilla; beat until blended. Add flour mixture; beat at low speed just until moist. Stir in 1/2 cup coconut.

 

Spoon batter into a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan coated with cooking spray; sprinkle with 1 tablespoon coconut. Bake at 350° for 1 hour or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes in pan on a wire rack; remove from pan.

 

Combine powdered sugar and juice, stirring with a whisk; drizzle over warm bread. Cool bread completely on wire rack.

 

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I have made it without the glaze (the pictures above are sans glaze) – it is still tasty. However, the sugary lime goodness is only going to escalate the flavor. Be careful not to over bake – since no oil is used in the bread, it can get dry. Also, I have subbed sour cream for the yogurt in the recipe and it turned out great. Use what you have!

 

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As much as The Boy was craving some home cookin’ when he returned from India, we ended up dining out instead.

Unfortunately, The Boy was only in Pittsburgh for approximately 20 hours before he had to get back on a plane and head somewhere else. Insanity. There was no time for food shopping or dirtying pots and pans. We needed some tasty food in a relaxed and quiet environment. Therefore, at the suggestion of The Boy’s parents, we decided to Amalfi On Tenth.

Amalfi on Tenth was formally Abruzzi’s and is located adjacent to the Holiday Inn Express on 10th Street in Southside. I had my first encounter with Amalfi during the Southside Soup Crawl (fun event). They served a really tasty crab bisque.  The Boy and I made a mental note to try the place for dinner.

We arrived around 6:00PM. There are large windows in the space and all decor uses cool shades of black, blue, silver.  We were immediately seated – the place was fairly empty.

We started the meal with appetizers and wine. Stuffed hot peppers were indeed HOT and an antipasto platter was quite large – it easily fed the table. The menu featured numerous chicken, veal, seafood, and pasta dishes. I was in the mood for pasta but every preparation on the menu sounded heavy – lots of cream. Most of the table ended up ordering veal entrees, including myself.  I had the veal piccata (veal, capers, artichokes, white wine sauce). It was well prepared – the veal was tender, the sauce flavorful but not too rich. I enjoyed the portion size as well. More than enough but not overwhelmingly huge. I believe my veal entree was around $20 and included a salad and a side of pasta.

Overall, I found the food quality at Amalfi on Tenth fairly high. However, the prices push the restaurant  into the upscale realm – a place where service must be delivered as well. Unfortunately, our service really lacked at Amalfi. Our waitress seemed painfully inexperienced. Timing was awkward, menus were removed before we even ordered, entrees came out at different times (and some were a bit cooler than might be desirable).

I would dine again at Amalfi on Tenth but would be hesitant to recommend it to others, purely based on the service.  If the service matched the food, I think this place could (and should) get a little more attention within the Pittsburgh scene.

Amalfi Restaurant & Lounge on Urbanspoon

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Chocolate Chip Cookies

I have made many different choco chip recipes over the years. My aunt’s well known recipe that makes a very cakey, not too sweet cookie. Low fat recipes made with applesauce (ick). I have even sliced and baked a few Pillsbury cookies.

Once again, I decided to try something new. I had seen a bit of discussion on the blogs about a recipe in the current issue of Cook’s Illustrated. It calls to melt and brown the butter. Let’s give it a try.

I found the recipe here via Cookie Madness (an awesome blog!).

Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies
Source: Cook’s Illustrated May/June 2009

Ingredients
1 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
14 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 3/4 sticks)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon table salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 1/4 cups semisweet chocolate chips or chunks
3/4 cup chopped pecans or walnuts, toasted (optional – I did not use)

Directions

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper. Whisk flour and baking soda together in medium bowl; set aside. (I used one baking sheet and my silicone liner)

Heat 10 tablespoons butter in 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat until melted, about 2 minutes. Continue cooking, swirling pan constantly until butter is dark golden brown and has nutty aroma, 1-3 minutes. Remove skillet from heat and, using heatproof spatula, transfer browned butter to large heatproof bowl. Stir remaining 4 tablespoons butter into hot butter until completely melted.

Add both sugars, salt and vanilla to bowl with butter and whisk until fully incorporated. Add egg and yolk and whisk until mixture is smooth with no sugar lumps remaining, about 30 seconds. Let mixture stand for 3 minutes, then whisk for 30 seconds. Repeat process of resting and whisking 2 more times until mixture is thick, smooth and shiny. Using rubber spatula or wooden spoon, stir in flour mixture until just combined, about 1 minute. Stir in chocolate chips and nuts (if using), giving dough final stir to ensure no flour pockets remain.

Divide dough into 16 portions, each about 3 tablespoons (or use a #24 cookie scoop). Arrange 2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets, 8 dough balls per sheet. (I did 6 at a time and did make them big – about 3 T each – I put the dough in the fridge between bakes)

Bake cookies 1 tray at a time until cookies are golden brown and still puffy, and edges have begun to set but centers are still soft, 10-14 minutes, rotating baking sheet halfway through baking. Transfer baking sheet to wire rack; cool cookies completely before serving.

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Here they are in various states of cooling, stacking, and packing. Of course these were tasty right out of the oven. I liked making them big. However, I was a bit overwhelmed by the butter/toffee taste. They almost seemed a bit greasy.

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This did not stop me from eating two huge cookies as I packed them up to take them to my parent’s house.

My parents also described them as ‘really buttery’. They only stayed soft for a few hours and were pretty crunchy in the end. I have a few leftovers I have been nibbling on. I am not sure I am in love with the melted/browned butter technique. I liked the look of these (literally bakery quality) but I just don’t know about the taste. Not bad, just different.

Perhaps this was an omen:

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This happened about halfway in to the baking. I have (somehow) never done this before.

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Easter weekend brought a Windy City friend back to the burgh. We wanted to meet up and chat and decided upon the Wine Loft, located in Southside Works.

There are plenty of parking garages near the Works, which is nice – getting there is not quite as stressful as getting yourself parked somewhere on Carson Street on a Saturday night. The garages charge $1 an hour at night and on the weekends.

The Wine Loft is located in the same building as the theater, but on the riverside of the complex.  The decor is lovely. Warm golden light, interesting light fixtures, many cozy chairs and sofas. The place was fairly crowded at 10PM on Saturday – however, my friend and I were still able to grab two seats near the door.

The Wine Loft has a ‘small plates’ menu and a decent wine list. I do think the markup on the wine is a bit high. I had a glass of the Firesteed Pinot Noir (Oregon) – $15.  I actually rarely consider markup (this is a bad habit) but had heard rumors of this place being pricey so decided to look into it. The wine list did not list vintages. The Pinot did not taste aged – a quick internet search has a 2006 Firesteed going for under $20. Hmm.  The wine was pleasant though and I happily nursed the glass.

I am not sure most of the crowd was really there to discover an amazing wine – they were more likely there for the atmosphere and/or to impress a lady friend. The crowd was a little more mature than you might find at Jack’s.  Glasses ranged from $9-$15. They also have a full bar. The place started to clear around 12AM – I think groups started to drift down Carson toward more dancing and noise. My friend and I were able to carry on a conversation the whole night though – nice to be in the action but still able to talk.

The Wine Loft coupled with the new Hofbrauhaus is helping to extend the life of the Southside Works past the dinner and movie crowd. I like it.

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Saturday afternoon, I met a friend for lunch. I have heard positive things about Typhoon, located at 242 S Highland Ave, in Shadyside.  My friend and I were particularly intrigued by this lunchtime Munch review in the PG and decided to give Typhoon a go (did it really take my friend and I a year to make a lunch date? Sigh)

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Springtime scenery on my way to Typhoon.

I arrived around 1PM on Saturday. There were a few occupied tables. The interior is lovely. Cool tones, intricate bamboo inspired cutlery on the tables. It was a sunny day and the generous windows at the front of the restaurant bathed everything in soft warm light.

Yes, they do have lunch!

Yes, they do have lunch!

The lunch menu includes some small plates, salads, soups, and lunch entrees. I ordered the pad thai with tofu and my dining companion ordered the pumpkin curry. I was asked if I wanted the pad thai ‘mild, medium, hot, thai hot one or thai hot two’. I don’t mind hot stuff but when I am ordering a whole plate of something, I tend to be a bit cautious. I went with medium.

The orders arrived quickly. My pad thai was really good. It was not hot at all. In fact I likely could have ordered at least the ‘hot’. It was dotted with perfectly cooked veggies, bits of peanuts, and luscious pieces of tofu. I liked that everything in the dish was sliced 0r diced small. No huge pieces of veggies – you were able to get a bit of everything in each bite.  I have probably only had pad thai a handful of times in my life, so I cannot really judge authenticity. I just know it was very enjoyable, I had leftovers, and my bill was $11 with tax and tip.

My friend and I enjoyed a leisurely meal and caught up in a lovely setting. I would love to take my mom or aunts here. Really affordable and relaxed for lunch, particularly on the weekends.

I know the prices increase significantly for dinner. The food I had for lunch was quality and well prepared though, so I would definitely give this place a try during the evening hours. The menu contained some yummy looking martinis and mixed drinks.

The rest of the afternoon was spent wandering S Highland and hitting up the liquor store to grab some champagne (I personally believe mimosas are perfect to bring to any daytime event, including an Easter brunch) and Borders to check out a bunch of discounted books. I did not get anything but I did see Cyril Wecht. He was signing his book and was very tan. I want to be tan.

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Last night I headed to Chaya in Squirrel Hill (2104 Murray Ave) to quench a sushi craving that had been building all week. I grabbed an old sushi-luvin’ friend and we were off. (Edit: Chaya has since moved to 2032 Murray Ave. I have not yet been to the new location but word is the place is bigger and still serving good stuff).

The place is small. We arrived about 7:00PM on a Friday and waited maybe 10 minutes for a table. Those arriving behind us were not so lucky. The teeny tiny waiting space quickly filled and people were likely waiting a half hour or more by the time we left. In addition, I had no idea the place was BYO! Many people had wine. The menu also encouraged bringing beer or sake. I believe they had a per stem charge of $2 or so.

The menu is extensive. The table beside us was excited to see octopus on the menu. There is a full dinner menu as well as a sushi menu (including some specialty rolls). I usually don’t order sushi boats or dinners – however, the prospect of the salad, soup, etc sounded good, so I went for it. I ordered the sushi dinner – $15 . It came with salad, soup and ‘fried chicken’. Fried chicken?

The salad was a small bowl of nice mixed greens with a glob of that glorious ginger dressing on top. No forks here people. I dug right in. Next came the ‘fried chicken’. Three fried chunks were served in a basket with a lemon wedge on the side. The chicken was definitely dark meat and the chunks kind of reminded me of chicken nuggets – I didn’t finish mine. Definitely something different – at least for me.

Next came a decent cup/bowl of miso soup. There were some nice chunks of tofu in there, which I appreciated. Shortly thereafter, the sushi arrived. My regular sushi dinner came with one crab and avocado roll and about 8 pieces of nigiri (tuna, white fish, salmon, shrimp – the standards). Plenty of food for me. My partner got the ‘deluxe sushi – $20 – he had an extra small roll of some sort as well as a few more pieces of nigiri, including eel. Everything tasted great and was served at a good temperature – not hot, not cold. Considering the place was packed, the prospect of the fish turning over quickly (and you getting something nice and fresh) is promising and comforting. This was tasty sushi.

I do not believe Chaya takes reservations. Be prepared to possibly wait on a Friday or Saturday night. Service was friendly. I will definitely return – can’t wait to show The Boy this new find when he gets back!

On another note, I had no idea Murray Ave would be so hopping on a Friday night. There were people everywhere! I spotted tons of little bakeries, pizza shops, etc, that I would love to explore.

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