Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Nectarine & Mascarpone Tart

The very first thing SP & I made in our kitchen after we moved in - after all the painting & unpacking was finished, after my mom had returned to Las Vegas and we were finally alone in our new home - was Nectarine & Mascarpone Tart in Gingersnap Crust from the July 2002 Bon Appetit.

That was nearly 2 years ago, Labor Day 2008. We really enjoyed the tart that Labor Day and have been meaning to make it again. Of course, somehow, we never got around to making it again - until this past weekend. Spurred by the lovely nectarines purchased at the farmers market and my desire to bake something, we decided to again make this tart.The crust is simple: buy gingersnap cookies, finely grind them in food processor, add half a stick unsalted butter (melted), combine and press into tart pan, bake at 350 for 8 minutes. Last time we made this, SP was living gluten free, so I am pretty sure we made our own gluten free gingersnap cookies (but it's also possible we bought gluten free cookies; I cannot remember). This time, we used store bought. Last time, we used the food processor to grind the cookies. This time, we put them in a ziploc bag and pounded them into crumbs (we didn't feel like cleaning the food processor...).Have I mentioned how much SP loves the knives Googer gave us? He does - and they made chopping the crystallized ginger a snap.

The filling is equally easy. Mix together mascarpone, cream cheese, sour cream, crystallized ginger, vanilla, lemon peel, and sugar. Spread in cooled crust and refrigerate at least 2 hours.We were a bit torn on how to handle the topping. Last time, we made this tart for a Labor Day gathering, so many people ate it and there were 1-2 slices leftover. This time, the tart is just for us, so ideally it needs to stay fresh for 4-5 days. We didn't want the topping to make the filling soggy and chopped nectarines wouldn't stay pretty for too long. Here's our 'solution:'We make a peach cheesecake which has melted peach preserves poured over top before being topped with peach slices. So instead of topping this tart with nectarine slices and then brushing with preserves, we decided to do it like the cheesecake: spread the preserves over the top of the tart and then top with fruit slices. The preserves 'firm up' in the refrigerator, so the tart won't get soggy/wet from the preserves.

In order to always have pretty and tasty nectarine slices, we decided to slice the nectarines as needed. However, so that we could have a pretty photo, we sliced one nectarine and fanned the slices out in a circle in the middle of the tart. After taking the photo, we picked off the slices, cut ourselves each a piece of tart, and divided the nectarine slices between our two tart slices:The tart was just as tasty as we remembered. Not too heavy, like a cheesecake can sometimes be, a lovely ginger flavor from the gingersnaps and crystallized ginger, and juicy local nectarines. Yum! Maybe we'll have to make this an 'every Labor Day' dessert just like the fruit tart seems to be an 'every July 4' dessert.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Saturday Date Day

Usually we're so busy on weekends with errands, chores, yard work, etc., that we seem to have only 'dinner dates.' Dinner dates are lovely, of course, but sometimes we long for the dating days before 'the house.' So a few times a year, we try to have 'date days' -- only fun activities, no chores, no errands. This past Saturday was a 'date day.'

I guess we cheated a bit because while I showered and got ready, SP went out to do the weekly grocery shopping, but by 12:30 pm we were on the road, headed to Phipps Conservatory. SP and I have really enjoyed recent exhibits at Phipps - specifically, the Chihuly glass exhibit we saw in 2007 and the Frabel exhibit in 2009. This time, we were excited to see the Gargoyles in the Garden exhibit.It was great! My only complaint is that it was so darn sunny that it was a bit hot and I often found myself blinded by the searing sun, even with sunglasses (though to be fair my eyes are overly sensitive to brightness). The gargoyles were great and it was fun to look for them peering out of the gardens. The butterflies were flitting about in the Stove Room, we saw the Giant Agave, and we enjoyed watching the kids play in the children's garden outside. We finished our leisurely stroll through Phipps around 3:30 and couldn't decide what to do next. It was too early for dinner, and we were planning to try a new restaurant in Homestead so we didn't want to head back towards Robinson or even over to the Strip. So we decided to check out the Shadyside Art Festival on Walnut Street.

What a mistake. Lots of traffic - we were crawling along so darn slowly, it was annoying and there were dopey pedestrians darting out in front of cars. There was no parking. The real reason I wanted to head over to Shadyside was to try Mercurio's Mulberry Creamery, but, well, trying them will just have to wait for a less busy day. Too bad because a frozen treat would have been very, very wonderful on such a bright, sunny, hot day.

So we decided to go to Plan B: head over to the Waterfront and walk around, grab a drink and snack somewhere. Once there, we decided to try Bar Louie -- they had lots of outdoor seats and were not very crowded. SP ordered iced tea and Woodchuck, I ordered a Strawberry Fizz martini:I had to control myself and not gulp the martini down - I was so thirsty! We both felt hungry since we hadn't had lunch, just a slightly larger than usual breakfast, so SP ordered a cup of the New Orleans Chicken Gumbo:A mound of rice in a gumbo broth. He said it was good. I have no appetite for hot things on hot days, so soup was out of the question for me. Plus, I saw a Pimiento Cheese Dip appetizer on the menu:Ohhh this was so tasty. Nice, cold, creamy, pimiento-y, peppery cheeses with crispy, thin tortilla chips. Yum! I could have eaten another helping of the cheese. This is the first time we've seen a pimiento cheese dip on a menu here in Pittsburgh and this one is tasty enough to be worth a special trip to Bar Louie!

The outdoor seating is nice - it's not along a road, like many outdoor seating areas in Pittsburgh, so you're not inhaling noxious vehicle fumes. Unfortunately, outdoor smoking is allowed. There was one other occupied table, 3 young guys, and one was smoking a stinky cigar. I guess the breeze was blowing at us because the cigar smoke really bugged me, but... Also, after about a half an hour, it really got too hot for us. The sun was beating down on us and our table didn't have an umbrella so we got quite uncomfortable. Next time, if it was as sunny as this past Saturday, I'd sit in the other outdoor area because it seemed a bit more shady and like there were maybe a few more shade umbrellas.

Our server was very friendly and nice, kept SP's iced tea filled, and checked on us to make sure we didn't need anything. She didn't seem annoyed that we were just having a couple drinks and appetizers.

After Bar Louie, we walked around a bit more and then headed to dinner, a bit of an early dinner (5:30). Our destination: Tin Front Cafe. We've been meaning to try this place - we went for lunch after a doctor appointment last June but they are closed on Monday so we didn't get to try them then.It's very cozy inside: light yellow walls, red chairs, diner-ish tables. Two skylights which make the interior nice & bright. I read somewhere that the wood bar was salvaged from Chiodo's. There's a small outdoor area, it was shaded, but we decided to stay inside because we were still kind of too hot from our outdoor dining at Bar Louie!

When we entered, we were greeted by a very friendly man who seemed to be the only server. He told us we could sit wherever we wanted. I couldn't decide what to drink, I sort of wanted a glass of wine, but in the end, I was just too hot and felt a bit sticky sweet from the martini (which was very tasty, it's just one of those fruity, sweet drinks) so I opted for iced tea. The server told me the iced tea of the day was Red Chocolate but that if I wanted another tea, he'd be happy to brew it. I couldn't decide! Red means rooibos, and normally I dislike rooibos teas, but I decided to try it anyway. I'm glad I did because the iced Red Chocolate was delicious! SP opted for a beer: Wynona's Big Brown Ale.Here's the dinner menu from last Saturday evening:It's very limited, and vegetarian. No meat on this menu! We knew that going in and it wasn't a problem for us. but for those who consider meat a necessary component of a meal, do not try Tin Front Cafe! The entrees come with a salad:Lovely, fresh greens, dried cranberries, shaved parmesan, and 2 slices of bread. I expected the bread to be kind of hard like a baguette, but it was very soft. The salad was lightly dressed with a vinaigrette. Very tasty.

We couldn't pass on the peach & smoked Swiss crostini:It seems like a bit of an odd combination, but it really worked. The crostini were crunchy but not too hard and the Swiss & peaches paired nicely.

I chose the pasta bake for my entree:Rigatoni with zucchini, squash, and tomato in a basil cream sauce. There were bread crumbs on top. This was very tasty, but I'm not sure I enjoyed it that much. I've decided that the problem was the heat. When it's hot, and when I am out in the hot sunshine, my appetite is suppressed. I cannot eat a lot. I don't really like to eat hot foods. I had already had an alcoholic drink (which sometimes suppresses my appetite) plus pimiento cheese dip & chips, a salad, and a lot of crostini, so I was pretty full, I had a small appetite to begin with, and I was still kind of hot and this dish was piping hot, so it just wasn't working for me.

However, I ate the leftovers for lunch on Sunday and really, really enjoyed the pasta bake.

SP chose the take on ratatouille:White rice covered with chickpeas, veggies, and potatoes in a light curry flavored sauce. He really enjoyed it. Like me, he was hot and kind of full, so he also took most of his meal home for lunch on Sunday.

Our server offered us a dessert of vanilla ice cream with nutella or a freshly made peach sauce. The homemade local peach sauce sounded really good and we were tempted, especially when he said there was a small size portion, but we were just too full.

We enjoyed Tin Front Cafe. We'd go back. Next time, I'd like to try the breakfast/lunch dishes at Tin Front Cafe. I saw some reviews online that complained of horrible service. Our service was very good. Plus, many of those reviews were dated in the first month or two after they opened. I wish it had been busier because we'd like for it to be successful. The Waterfront prosperity does not necessarily spill over into that area of Homestead, and that's too bad. We did notice a few new places opening up along that stretch plus we've heard good things about Blue Dust, which is in the area.

Did I mention that we were stuffed full of food and drink and still feeling hot and sweaty? We had been planning to end our date day at Te Cafe, but neither of us felt as if we could handle putting more into our tummies, not even tasty tea! So we headed home, with a brief stop at Giant Eagle Market District for some treats for later in the evening:We shared the huge lady lox around 10 pm that night. It was good, but not as good as the ones at Bethel Bakery. We tried a bit of the lemon cake on Sunday after lunch and to our surprise it was very, very tasty.The icing was not the thick, hard, sweet icing we expected; it was very light and creamy. The cake itself was moist and light and the lemon filling was not too tart. Definitely a good choice from the GEMD bakery.

Saturday was definitely a lovely date day with my sweetie pie!

The Tin Front Cafe on Urbanspoon

Back to the Farmers Market

For the second Friday evening in a row, we went to the Original Farmers Market. For $16, we got 2 cucumbers, a bunch of rosemary, 7 tomatoes, 2 bunches of arugula, 2 red peppers, 7 nectarines, and 8 peaches:Then it was time to think about dinner. One option was to return home and eat the leftovers from Thursday evening: tri-colored cheese ravioli with Classico sauce and fresh basil with a side of chopped heirloom tomato:The other option: try some of the food at the farmers market. We decided to eat at the market. I secured an end of one of the picnic tables for us while SP bought a gyro ($5.50):Meatless stuffed grape leaves (12 grape leaves for $6):And a spinach pie ($2.50):Dinner cost almost as much as the fruits & veggies!!! I didn't get a photo of the inside of the spinach pie because when SP started ripping it apart, I was trying to keep the gyro from falling apart! It was a pretty tasty gyro. Good sauce and the usual seasoned lamb-beef meat. I didn't try the grape leaves. SP did and really enjoyed them. I didn't try the spinach pie because the gyro was so filling. SP said the spinach-feta pie was just OK and he probably wouldn't get it again.

As we were leaving, we discovered a booth selling funnel cakes. Mmmmm. But I was too full. Maybe next time.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Tomato Tart

Sunday afternoon I made a tomato tart. I loosely followed a recipe from Puff, the puff pastry cookbook that SP gave me last Christmas. Instead of using plum or cherry tomatoes, I used the tomatoes that SP bought at the farmers market. There were 5 tomatoes (we had eaten the 6th one at lunch) and I sliced each into about 5 slices. I placed them on a foil lined cookie sheet, seasoned the slices with salt & pepper, drizzled olive oil over the slices, and sprinkled them with dried rosemary & thyme.SP tried to buy fresh rosemary & thyme at the farmers market, but couldn't find any. The herb guy told him that they sell out quickly of those two herbs. Maybe next year we should try growing them since we use them a lot.

The tomatoes roasted in a 350 degree oven until they were shriveled (and the ones along the perimeter of the cookie sheet were black!). The official recipe says the roasting can take 1.5~3 hours. I think theses ones took a bit over an hour, but I'm not sure because I was busy doing other things in the kitchen while they roasted. Definitely at least an hour.As the tomatoes cooled a bit, we increased the oven temperature to 425 degrees and rolled out a sheet of puff pastry. The official recipe says to roll it out to 14" x 12". I'm pretty sure ours was not that large - we get annoyed rolling puff pastry and never seem to roll it as thin/large as the recipe states. The 14" x 12" sheet is cut in half, each half is placed on a parchment lined cookie sheet, the halves are pricked with a fork, and the pastry is baked for about ten minutes.While the puff pastry baked, I chopped some feta cheese. After ten minutes, the puff pastry is removed from the oven, puffy parts in the centers of the pieces are gently pressed down, and the tomatoes are layered onto the puff pastry. Then it's returned to the oven for about 12~15 minutes or until the edges of the puff pastry are golden brown.

The cooked and tomato covered puff pastries are then transferred to a cooling rack. The edges are brushed with olive oil and the feta cheese is sprinkled on.Ours didn't quite look like the cookbook photo (since we used different tomatoes and probably more than 2 ounces of feta). After the tarts cooled for a bit, we sampled some - a little appetizer while dinner was still on the grill. Mmmm this was tasty! I love puff pastry, I love tomatoes, and I love cheese - so it was pretty much guaranteed I'd love the tomato tart. And I did. Very much. We'll definitely make it again. Maybe even this weekend, since SP only got a small piece (I ate 3/4 of the finished product for dinner Tuesday night when he was at a work function).

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

CSA Week #20

This week: new potatoes, red onions, red sweet pepper, colored sweet peppers, sweet corn, heirloom tomatoes, white peaches, green and/or yellow beans, and yellow honeydew.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Weekend Grilling

For the first Sunday in a few weeks, we had no plans, no errands to run, just a few chores to do, and a nice day for grilling. The perfect time to try out our new grilling basket, a present from EPAS. It's pictured above, with our huge bowl of veggies. I chopped one zucchini and one eggplant from the farmers market, the red pepper from the farmers market, and an onion from the CSA. The zucchini and eggplant were so large that we decided to grill just one of each. We have another zucchini and another eggplant for later in the week. We tossed the veggies with salt, pepper, and olive oil, dumped them into the grill basket, and placed it on the grill.It's a very large basket, which is good since we grill a lot of veggies. Instead of rounds, we did chunks because we figured chunks would be easier to stir in the basket. Grilled veggies for dinner:Along with the grilled veggies, we did a pork loin on the grill. SP bought a large boneless pork loin at Costco: He cut it into 4 pieces: and sealed 3 in the vacuum sealer and put them in the freezer. We grilled the fourth on the rotisserie:Seasoned only with olive oil, pepper, and Dos Anclas salt.

I made a foil package of sliced potatoes for grilling:Layers of potatoes, onions, fresh parsley, pepper, and a bit of butter. We used up the potatoes from Giant Eagle and all of the CSA potatoes we had in the 'potato bin.' Mmmm look at the lovely brown bits: A very tasty, very simple grilled dinner, with, of course, leftovers for the week. It felt really good to eat so many veggies and simply seasoned foods after a week of leftover Italian food (Buca di Beppo), leftover pizza, and pierogies!

And many thanks to EPAS for the awesome grilling basket! We love it!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Wild Rosemary Bistro

This past Saturday SP & I tried a restaurant that has been on our 'to try' list ever since it opened: Wild Rosemary Bistro. It's a 'special occasion' restaurant. Our 'special occasion,' or some might say 'excuse to go out to a more expensive than usual' meal, was the 'anniversaries' of when we started dating, moved in together, and got engaged. All 3 of those 'events' occurred in August on either the 21st or 22nd.We had read in Edible Allegheny (article here) and in newspapers (City Paper review here, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette review here) that a reservation on a Saturday was tough to come by, so it is a good idea to call well in advance. We called in early June. Since I am in a wheelchair and the restaurant is tiny, the woman SP spoke with suggested we come in around 5:30, before it got too busy, and that would ensure we got the easiest accessible table and wouldn't have to try to maneuver between tables. SP said OK.

The parking lot is gravel, not great for a wheelchair, but it wasn't too bad. Once inside the front door, you are greeted by a weathered blue-green table/hostess area. I didn't get a good look at the area to the left of the hostess area, but I seem to remember it having a large table to seat 8-10 or so people (there was a large party seated there when we entered) and that table is 'higher,' like sitting at a bar. We were seated at the first table off to the right, next to the red tiled fireplace. I couldn't help but wonder what it would be like to dine next to the fireplace in cooler months and when it's dark outside and the candlelight from the candles on the mantle would be more noticeable.

The inside is bright. Lots of yellow, orange, and red. There were several dehumidifiers/fans running, which some might find noisy or annoying but they didn't bother us. In addition to the large party at the table to the left, there were a couple other tables occupied in the 'to the right' area.We took a bottle of Coppola sauvignon blanc to drink and it was opened soon after we were seated. SP & I only needed a bit of time to see that the menu was the same as what we had seen online, and we both already knew what we wanted!! Wild Rosemary changes menus frequently, every two weeks, I think, and some entrees stay (their scallops dish is their most popular) but newer ones appear (taking advantage of seasonal foods). Not long after opening our wine, we were served an appetizer of flatbread wedges with goat cheese and herbs with an heirloom tomato salad:The 6 flatbread wedges were wrapped in a mini bag tied with twine. We both really enjoyed these starters. The tomatoes were so fresh and juicy and the seasoning and dressing just right. Not too heavy, light and refreshing. Goat cheese & herbs on flatbread - what's not to like?! Especially if you love goat cheese, and we do.

SP chose the salmon for his meal:I had predicted ahead of time that he would choose the salmon! The full description: Bay of Fundy salmon, seared, served with paella (rice, saffron, piquillos peppers, white wine, and steamed Cherry Stone clams) and rocket. I looked up rocket before we went and rocket is simply another name for arugula (Wikipedia article here), also known as roquette.

The arugula salad also had a few sun-dried tomato bits, thiny sliced onion, and a few slivers of red & yellow peppers. If there was a dressing, it was very, very light. SP really, really enjoyed this dish - the fish was nicely cooked, not dried out, and he loved the clams and paella.

I chose the veal cutlet:Full description: veal cutlets pounded, lightly breaded, and sauteed, sun-dried tomato butter, artichoke potato confit, lemon oregano, and rocket. Oh my goodness, this was so tasty. The thin veal was not tough or overcooked and leathery like thin meats sometimes can be. The artichoke potato confit was excellent. Like SP, I really enjoyed the arugula salad. I ate it all!

After finishing our wine & entrees, SP ordered some hot tea:And I ordered a half press of decaf coffee:I am not a coffee connoisseur, I do not regularly drink it, but I really liked this coffee. I like that it is served in a press. Even though I was very full after dessert, I drank all the coffee because it was so tasty!

Of course we had dessert! We shared two 'Evening Sweets.' Neapolitan Brownie: And a glazed sour cream poundcake with peaches and creme fraiche.
My brain must've been in a food coma, because I kept reading 'Neapolitan' as 'Napoleon' and was thinking it would be a 'napoleon' with brownie instead of puff pastry and gelato instead of custard. Oops. So of course I asked what the gelato flavors in the Neapolitan are and our server nicely told me chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry. Not until we got home did it suddenly hit me that I had been reading it wrong!! I feel so dumb!! Of course 'neapolitan' favors are chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry! Some foodie I am...

It was very tasty, and we both really enjoyed it, lapping up every last bit of gelato, but the peach poundcake was even better. Oh my. I couldn't shovel it in fast enough. If we both hadn't been so stuffed, there might have been a fork fight for the last bite. SP let me have the last bite because he was stuffed and, being the sweets lover I am, I quickly speared it before he could change his mind.

We took a photo of our bill because we thought it was so cute, and definitely different from the norm. A skinny sheet of paper with the Wild Rosemary logo and our order handwritten - and so neatly! I didn't bother to blur out the prices - after all, I just wrote about what we ordered and the prices are listed at their website, so it's not a big mystery how much we spent. We just liked the unique bill.
We found the service at Wild Rosemary to be very good. Everyone was so friendly. There were no long lapses between courses. It was almost like dining at someone's home because everyone was so friendly and casual and made sure you had everything you needed. Nothing uptight or pretentious, no fear of disdain from a server for using the wrong fork. Just very warm-hearted and welcoming and cozy.

We will definitely be back to Wild Rosemary. In fact, like another couple who made a reservation for their next visit, we made a reservation for our next visit, which will also be on a Saturday but at a later time and in a cooler month -- hopefully we'll be next to the red-tile fireplace again.

**Megan from Spicy & Blue recently dined at Wild Rosemary; read her review here.

Wild Rosemary Bistro on Urbanspoon