Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween!

 Happy Halloween! We're celebrating all week with these Halloween Linzer Cookies (also known in my family as Ischl Tartlets). The sticky dough is still annoying, as always, but so worth the effort.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Table Lakeside for Lunch

Last Saturday was one of our 'lots of errands & shopping' days. After a morning appointment, instead of a quick lunch at Panera or a similar place, we decided to lunch at Table Brick Oven & Bar in Canonsburg. It was nearly 1 pm, but when we pulled into the parking lot, there was no one else there. I was a little nervous. SP went over to the door to make sure they were open (they were) but... we debated for a bit and then decided to try it anyway.
We were warmly greeted and asked where we would like to sit. We chose the terrace area, overlooking the lake (and the strip mall off in the distance). We were the only people in the restaurant. It feels really weird when you are the only ones in a restaurant. It was nice to sit in the porch-like area. There were plenty of fall colors to look out at and I wondered what it would be like in warmer weather when the garage door like windows were flipped open like garage doors.

The menu has changed since we last were at Table (June 2011) but since I'd only been there once before and so long ago, I couldn't really tell you what is different. We ordered iced teas and SP started off with a side salad.
Mixed greens, pitted kalamatas, roasted red pepper, red onions, grape tomatoes. It was a nice side salad, not too big, not too small, crisp and fresh veggies.

In addition to entree salads, flatbreads, and sandwiches, Table offers small and large portions of the entrees. SP chose the small portion of tamales.
I can't find a description on the online menu because they are not on the online menu even though they were on the printed menu and not a daily special (I think, if memory serves me right). He enjoyed them, thought it was a pretty big portion, and was not expecting the large pieces of hot pepper inside. Tender but not dry pork. Lots of hearty, filling cornmeal.
I chose the small portion of Chicken Romano with Linguine Rosa.
I thought it was just OK, but I also wasn't feeling very well, so perhaps my taste buds were clouded by whatever allergy-like thing I was experiencing? The chicken size was just OK, and it was a bit dry. The egg-romano batter was really oozing out past the chicken and was very eggy. I had to cut away a lot of it to get to the chicken in the middle of the blob. The linguine rosa was quite tasty. A creamy tomato sauce, not too heavy.
My impressions are the same as before: it's a nice location, our server was very friendly, but the quality and portion size just didn't seem to fit the price. I might go back, especially if we again want a more leisurely, sit down kind of lunch and are in the area for errands, but it's not high on my list.

Table Brick Oven and Bar on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

New Favorite Chocolate Chip Cookie

A couple of weeks ago, I wanted cookies. Specifically, I really, really wanted biscotti. But SP wasn't in the mood for biscotti. I was sad and may have pouted a bit but then suggested good old chocolate chip cookies instead. He agreed.

The problem was, I haven't liked our chocolate chip cookies. I don't like the Toll House recipe because they always come out too thin and crispy and kind of greasy. I prefer thick and chewy. I always liked the recipe on the side of the butter flavored Crisco shortening package, but the idea of baking with shortening always grosses out SP. He makes 2 exceptions: for pie crust and for the holiday sugar cookies, both of which use butter and shortening.
So we decided to finally try the chocolate chip cookie recipe in Baking Illustrated. I had resisted this recipe for so long because chocolate chip cookies are supposed to be quick & easy. Instead of just scooping balls of dough onto a cookie sheet, this recipe says to scoop out 1/4 cup dough, rip it in half, smush the halves back together with the jagged parts exposed, then place it on the cookie sheet.

But Baking Illustrated and Cook's Illustrated recipes have never disappointed. So we tried it. The result: best chocolate chip cookie ever. They are thick and chewy and soft and large and just so delicious.

About a week after we made these cookies, Brown Eyed Baker had a Chocolate Chip Cookie Throwdown. She made 4 different recipes, including this one. Her results are here.
Her taste testers rated this cookie third!! I haven't tried the top two vote getter recipes, but having just tried this recipe and being incredibly, incredibly happy with the results, I think I'll stick with this recipe for a while. These cookies were so good that I might even add chocolate chip cookies back to the holiday cookie list.

Sunday, October 21, 2012


Where's the beef? It's not usually in our house! While SP buys me ground beef for burgers and meatloaf and meatballs, we don't eat those things very often at home. Once a year, he'll buy me beef for kebabs on the grill. But we never make beef stroganoff or pot roast or brisket. SP stopped eating beef a while ago. I don't really want to get into a discussion of cows and how they are raised, processed, resources used, etc. Everyone has their own personal views on meat consumption, seafood consumption, etc. He chose to not eat beef.

I will eat beef, but I don't like to eat it very often. While I missed roast beef, pot roast, brisket, beef ribs, etc., I didn't, and couldn't, complain because I do not enjoy eating fish and he does, and I don't enjoy spicy foods or foods with garlic/coconut/chilies, etc., and he loves them. We each gave up foods for the other in order to eat the same meals.

But then one day he started mentioning that if we bought happy beef, he might eat it. Happy meaning organic, grass fed beef. Then last weekend as we were having one of those frustrating what should we make for dinner discussions, I said I really kind of wanted a roast. He agreed, provided I let him buy happy, organic, grass fed beef. I said OK.

So there it is. It doesn't look like much. He went to Sunny Bridge Natural Foods in McMurray and spent $20+ on a hunk of cow. We browned it in bacon fat and then roasted it in liquid (stock and water) with carrots and mushrooms until it was done.
Well cooked. Moist. Flavorful. Delicious. Even SP enjoyed it. We ate it with slices of olive oil bread from Market District and whatever CSA veggies were in the veggie drawer.
Yummy gravy with lots of mushrooms - I love mushroom gravy.

I haven't bought beef in so long that I have no idea what regular beef costs nor do I have an idea what happy beef costs. $20 for this hunk of beef seemed pricey. Was the happy cow worth the cost? That really depends on your point of view and your financial situation. We are lucky that we can afford to buy organic meats if we choose to do so. I know that 2 Costco non-organic roasting chickens cost as much as one smaller size organic, air chilled roasting chicken but the organic one tastes better, it just bugs me to pay twice as much.

It's just the two of us, and this meal was four dinners for us. Four dinners times two people equals eight meals. Add in the cost of the bread, carrots, and mushrooms (and ignoring the CSA veggies and any pantry items, like stock and cornstarch), divide by 8, round up a wee bit, and it was about $3.40 per helping. I know we've made cheaper meals, but that doesn't sound so bad to me. But, if you are on a tight budget, or you are parents with teenagers who devour everything in sight so this only lasts 1, maybe 2 meals, then maybe it's not worth it.
I wish eating organic was more affordable. When we do eat organic meats, they do taste better to me. This roast was delicious. We probably won't start eating that much more beef, but I am glad that now SP will sometimes eat happy cow. Moo!

Friday, October 19, 2012

Back to Bistro 19

Last weekend we made a return trip to a restaurant we both really like: Bistro 19 in Mt. Lebanon. Our reservations were for 7:30 pm and we were promptly seated near a window - perfect for watching all the homecoming dresses parade up and down the nearby streets.
We always seem to order the same dishes when we dine at Bistro 19. Considering we hadn't been there in nearly 2 years, I guess that's not a bad thing. Our usual appetizer: calamari. Still delicious, in a light breading, not chewy, not rubbery, and a delicious citrus-caper remoulade for dipping.
Bistro Salad: crispy mixed greens, chopped tomato, chopped onions, cucumber slices, bread sticks, and a balsamic vinaigrette that was not too heavy.
SP likes the duck, salmon, and sea bass at Bistro 19. This time, he chose the duck: Maple Leaf Farm's Duck Breast, sun-dried cherry chutney, sweet potato gnocchi, bacon braised brussel sprouts. As usual, he said the duck was delicious, the brussel sprouts were yummy and bacony, and the gnocchi were tasty and not gummy/chewy.
I have never tried an entree other than the Black Tiger Shrimp stuffed with spinach & artichoke, tomato parmesan cream, risotto, spinach. The shrimp are perfectly cooked, the filling is deliciously creamy and melty and tangy, the risotto creamy and oh so good when spooned up with the tomato cream. Usually I can devour the entire dish, but this time, owing to a still somewhat upset stomach from the previous night, I took about 1/4 of it home for lunch the next day.

We didn't order dessert because we were stuffed.

I was surprised when I realized how long it had been in between visits to Bistro 19. I wish we dined here more often, as I think about a lot of places. I'm happy to say that the food & service are both still terrific. If you haven't tried Bistro 19 yet, I highly suggest you do!

Bistro 19 on Urbanspoon

Monday, October 15, 2012

Charleston Crab Soup

Last week I was flipping through our beat up copy of The Joy of Cooking, looking for soup inspiration, when I saw a recipe for Charleston Crab Soup. It caught my eye because we spent part of our honeymoon in Charleston, we loved Charleston, and SP loves crab soup. So I scanned the ingredients, realized we had all of them, and suggested it to SP for dinner. He agreed.

The ingredients:
hot sauce
This is very easy to make and not very time consuming, but our results were so-so. There was a lot of crab, which was good, but someone had neglected to really pick through and discard all the teeny weeny shell bits before adding it to the soup, so we kept crunching bits of shell and having to pick bits of shell of out our mouths as we ate. Yuck. We noticed our last can of crab had a lot of shell bits, too, so we are kind of disappointed in our recent crab purchases.

There is no broth, just whole milk, so it's not an especially healthy soup. I suppose you could make it with a lower fat milk, or substitute some fish stock for some milk. We ate our soup with lots of steamed broccoli.
Our soup lacked the usual pinkish color, which is likely because we didn't use the crab roe. But it also seemed to lack some other flavor. So one afternoon, I researched crab soup recipes and made a list of ingredients in other recipes that were not in our recipe: mace, cayenne, paprika, lemon zest/juice, onion, tomato paste, hard boiled egg yolk. I gather the yolk is supposed to be a substitute for the roe, but we decided to not try adding hard boiled egg yolk.

When we reheated the leftovers, we added some additional flavors. Since mace is related to nutmeg, we added some freshly grated nutmeg (we don't have mace). We also added paprika. We didn't add cayenne because we already had hot sauce in the soup. The nutmeg and paprika really improved the taste of the soup and I'd definitely add them next time, and even add the cayenne in addition to the hot sauce.

Also, next time, I would saute some onions in butter and maybe some celery as well before adding the flour and milk. I'm not sure I'd substitute any kind of broth for some of the milk, I didn't really see that as an ingredient in any other recipes, but I did see heavy cream in several recipes. That would make the soup richer and creamier and yummier, but even less healthy!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Arpino Trattoria

I have had several doctor appointments lately, which means early mornings for us. I try to make the appointments so that SP can take me, get me home, and then get to work at a not much later than usual time. But one day, after enduring much poking and prodding and ultrasounds and a couple of puncture wounds/bruises because no one can ever find my veins when they try to draw blood and when they do manage to stick my tiny, skinny, buried veins, the stupid vein usually collapses, necessitating additional poking, well, he just wasn't going to get back into town for work at a reasonable time.

So SP made the decision to work from home for the rest of the day but first, we would go out to lunch because he was hungry and because I was a little crabby. I'm always a little crabby after doctor visits and usually he makes me happy afterwards by buying me donuts, but this time all the good donuts would be gone because it was nearly noon, so I got to go out for lunch! Somewhere new! We decided to try Arpino Trattoria.

It's in the same shopping area as my childhood pediatrician's office, in fact, it may have been my pediatrician's office before he retired! It's in Manor Oak Village which is either in Green Tree or Mt. Lebanon, or Scott, take your pick, I've seen all three listed for that location. It's in the same area as Max & Erma's and Duke's Station.
We were warmly greeted, seated right away, given our choice of seats, and happily discovered that they do in fact offer freshly brewed iced tea. I couldn't decide what I wanted to eat, so I spent some time looking around. It's pretty minimal inside. Mustard colored walls. Some framed photos of, presumably, Italy. Dark colored tables and chairs. Small and minimal yet cozy and inviting.

As soon as our server said the soup of the day was Manhattan Clam Chowder, I knew SP would be ordering it. He thought it was really good, lots of chopped clams, lots of clam flavor, and lots of little pieces of potatoes and veggies, not huge hunks, a light fish & tomato broth, no cream in sight.
While SP enjoyed his soup, I enjoyed a side salad. Crisp mixed greens, cherry tomatoes, a cucumber slice, a couple of croutons, and a tasty light vinaigrette. I was happy that there were not any onions on the salad.
 We received bread wrapped in waxed paper. I think the menu said the bread is from Mediterra. It was delicious. SP dipped some in his broth, I mopped up my dressing with bread.
SP chose a sandwich, which kind of surprised me. The Prosciutto, with provolone (or fresh mozzarella, your choice), marinated tomatoes, arugula, balsamic, and olive oil. It was huge! He brought about one fourth of it home. There was a very nice portion of prosciutto on the sandwich. Tasty, chewy bread. Nice light balsamic drizzle. Fresh, crisp veggies. The side salad orzo with olives and broccoli bits was lightly dressed.
I ordered Penne Vodka - penne tossed in vodka cream sauce with pecorino romano. I added a meatball, which came on the side in marinara. The meatball was moist, flavorful, easy to cut with my fork. The penne was triangular shaped. It seemed thicker than the usual penne. Very substantial penne, which is a good thing. Cooked to al dente. The sauce was amazing. This might be the best tomato-vodka-cream sauce I've ever had. It was thick, not thin and runny, it clung to the pasta. It was just so delicious. The kind of sauce that you mop up every last bit with bread and if you don't have bread, well, you discreetly lick your plate. Which I didn't do since I brought half home. I did scrape as much of the sauce as possible into the take home container, possibly bordering on improper scraping of a plate in a restaurant. I tried to be quiet but thorough!
I deliberately saved just enough room to share the cannoli dessert with SP. It's actually two pizzelles with cannoli filling and chocolate drizzle.
The pizzelles were soft, but not too soft, and full of anise flavor. Much prettier than my pizzelles, which come out with ragged edges and darker/lighter splotches. The cannoli filling was creamy but not too rich.
I liked the chocolate drizzle, but this would have been fine without it, and I wouldn't have gotten chocolate drizzle on my fingers!

We had a very tasty lunch. It can get a little loud inside, and the interior is pretty sparse, but it's cozy and the employees are very welcoming. Definitely a place we'd like to dine at again, definitely a place we might take my parents when they are in town. Arpino Trattoria (Manor Oak Village) on Urbanspoon

Friday, October 12, 2012

Cafe Kolache

I'm a little behind on blogging. Maybe unmotivated? Maybe too busy with other things right now? I'm trying to finish my dragonfly cross-stitch by the end of the year, but I suspect that is not going to happen. I've got a stack of books to read and instead of being on the computer on this sunny Friday afternoon, I should be trying to read the remaining 4/5 of 'Telegraph Avenue' by Michael Chabon before it's due date of tomorrow. Whoops.

But last night in the middle of the night I woke up and for some reason I was thinking, "Hey, I never blogged about Cafe Kolache!"
My dreams are strange, and sometimes I just want to forget them ASAP because they are so strange. Like why the heck was I suddenly dreaming about my blog and Cafe Kolache? Although I suppose that's better than the dream where the water main breaks and floods the entire house, or the dream where I get stung by gazillions of bees, or the one where I am trying to bicycle into a barn before the acid rain starts. Yup. Not remembering dreams is preferable.

Remembering these kolache is definitely a good thing. We found ourselves up north one day and I remembered this place on Third Ave in Beaver, so I suggested we grab a quick snack. Cafe Kolache. What is a kolache? A kolache is a Czech pastry, a delight of slightly sweet yeast dough, usually with fruity filling but at Cafe Kolache there are also breakfast kolache filled with eggs and bacon/sausage/ham as well as lunch kolache like the spinach and feta one I decided to try. The kolache dough is delicious.
SP chose a chicken fajita & jalapeno kolache.
He devoured his. Mostly, he was starving, but between bites he managed to mumble that it was delicious and not too spicy/hot but probably too hot for me, the heat wimp.
There was a lot of spinach in my kolache and a hint of feta. The spinach and feta flavors were good, but the star was the kolache dough.

Of course we had to try some of the fruity, dessert kolache. We picked out 6 flavors to try. The first one we shared was fresh from the oven, still steaming, and the cream cheese was delightfully melty.
We also shared a warm raspberry one.
And then we were pretty full, so we took the other four home and enjoyed all four the next day: blueberry, lemon, cherry, and peach.

Cafe Kolache offers many coffee drinks, using coffee from Prestogeorge in The Strip. They also have a lot of loose leaf teas. While I chose a latte, SP had a fresh brewed iced tea and then he got a coconut green tea to go.

We really liked this place. It was a sunny but chilly Saturday and neither of us had ever actually gone to Beaver, just around/through it. This street, Third Street, was very cute and had lots of restaurants, some shops, it looked like a nice place to wander along. It wasn't too difficult to snag a parking space in front of some shops.

The Cafe Kolache workers were incredibly friendly. Like some of the friendliest workers I have encountered in quite some time. They asked if we had been there before, if we knew what a kolache is, described their different kinds, and when we ordered our dessert kolaches, they made sure to give us the fresh, warm from the oven ones, not the ones that were sitting in the case. Kolaches are really good cold, but warm, well they are really, really really good warm!

I would love to go back, not just for the kolache but to walk around and explore the town. We didn't have time to spend a relaxing day, we had too many things on our 'To Do' list. Hopefully, we'll get back soon.

Cafe Kolache on Urbanspoon

Friday, October 5, 2012

Why I Can't Wear White Out

Our dining out experiences have been spur of the moment decisions recently. Planning meals out seems to be a thing of the past!
This past weekend, we were out & about in Robinson and decided to try the new Burgatory location in Robinson. It's where Scoglio's used to be, in the same area as Panera, Pier One, Game Stop, and Chipotle.
We used our phones at Costco and discovered that at 5 pm there was an estimated wait of 65-75 minutes. I called to see if you could add your name to the list via phone, but, no, you must go in to add your name/give them your cell phone number for the No Wait service. A little annoying, but we drove over to give them our name, planning to head back over to Kirkland's while we waited. It turned out that the wait for a table for 2 was 30-45 minutes, so instead we went to Pier One (for me) and Game Stop (for him). After just 30 minutes our table was ready. Not a bad wait. (They said you have 10 minutes from when you get your text message that your table is ready to get back to the restaurant.)
I like the interior of this location better than the one in Fox Chapel/Waterworks. It seems a bit roomier but it's still noisy inside. It was easier for me to see the TVs at the bar. We've been to Burgatory several times before and made our decisions quickly. Iced teas for both of us, a beer for SP, the daily special goat burger for SP, and chicken burger with cheddar, bacon, avocado, arugula, greens, cucumber, tomato, bourbon BBQ on brioche for me.
I think the above photo is the goat burger: Caribbean Jerk Crusted Goat Burger w/ Provolone, Conch Fritter, Grilled Pineapple, Cilantro Cream & Field Greens. Below is my chicken:
SP really liked his goat burger. Normally I don't like chips, but these potato chips are so good! We both ate most of them. As usual, I really enjoyed my sandwich. I love brioche buns, the veggies were fresh and crispy, lots of bacon and avocado.

My only 'complaint' is that I can never manage to eat a sandwich this loaded with goodies without making a mess! This time, a pesky chunk of avocado shot out the side and made the perfect leap down my sleeve. The sleeve of my white shirt. There was smushed avocado on the inside. Sigh. It's very difficult to get avocado out of white.
After eating the sandwiches, we decided to have a shake for dessert. We chose the special Choco Taco shake.
 It was delicious! Bits of peanuts and crunch bars and waffle cone mixed in the shake.

We are so happy to have a Burgatory in the area. They have had so many interesting sounding shakes over the past few months that I didn't get to try because Fox Chapel just isn't close enough to drop by for a shake. But now... well, this could be dangerous.

A couple weeks ago, after furniture shopping in the Wexford area, we drove past Atria's in Wexford. We haven't been to Atria's in a while, and I remembered that they have their Oktoberfest menu now, so we did a quick turn around and went there for dinner. It was a nice dinner, a friendly and efficient server, and had the bonus of providing terrific people watching since it was homecoming night for a nearby school and we got an eyeful of current homecoming fashion. I will only say this: thank goodness we do not have children because no way would our daughter be allowed out to stagger around, sober, in stripper heels while wearing enough glitter & sequins to blind someone and a dress short enough to leave... well, not much to the imagination. Oh, I forgot to mention the feathers, as in a dress bottom that looked like a bunch of flouncy feathers.

Here's what we ate while conducting our own version of Fashion Police:
Side salad with balsamic dressing. Big enough to share.

Creamy Bavarian Cheese Soup, Swiss based. Tasty. Cheesy. 

Sherry Crab Bisque, one of SP's favorites

Daily Special: Trout with Asparagus. SP said it was tasty. I think that was a balsamic glaze on the trout.

Breaded veal topped with fried onions on top a potato pancake and covered with gravy. Nice thickness to the veal, a wee bit tough, tasty potato pancake, tasty onion straws. 
I'm going to blame my mishap at this dinner on the homecoming girls. The sequins must have blinded me. As I was eating the salad, I managed to loose control of some lettuce and dribbled it down the front of my white shirt. As it bounced down, it left a lovely trail of balsamic dressing. Whoops. Classy.

Clearly, I should not ever wear white when I eat since this was 2 weekends in a row of white shirts and me dribbling difficult to wash out food on the shirts.

But, these are 2 yummy local chains. We are sad that Atria's left Robinson several years ago but excited to have Burgatory in the neighborhood. I'm looking forward to lots of shakes!