Tuesday, November 27, 2012

North Pole Scents

I'm having a little technical difficulty with the blog. I seem to have used up all my free photo space. I have technical support on it (SP is in charge of fixing this issue) but in the meantime, I am unable to post photos of the wonderful Thanksgiving meal that SP's sister made for us.

This year, we decided to go visit SP's sister for Thanksgiving. She and her family used to live in eastern PA, but now they live in western MA. Sadly, it is now a longer drive to visit MAS and her family. We left Tuesday night after SP got home from work, drove halfway, stayed overnight, and then drove the other half on Wednesday. The hope was to avoid what everyone assured us would most likely be horrific traffic near Hartford. Fortunately, our strategy paid off and we zipped right on by Hartford.

Thanksgiving is about being thankful and eating. So what did we eat?

We helped MAS make mushroom turnovers Wednesday afternoon. We enjoyed them and some shrimp cocktail for lunch/afternoon snacking on Thanksgiving.

MAS made her deliciously moist meatballs for dinner on Wednesday. I especially like that she serves the meatballs and sauce with penne instead of spaghetti or angel hair as I don't enjoy slurping up long noodles and having sauce spray all around and make a mess.

Thanksgiving dinner was a maple glazed turkey, cornbread stuffing (with mushrooms & sausage), green beans with shallots and bacon, cranberry sauce (with vanilla, orange, and spice), crescent rolls, mashed potatoes, and gravy. And of course, her husband's mom's pumpkin pie recipe. It uses lots of cinnamon and only cinnamon instead of pumpkin pie spice (cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, ginger).

Friday for lunch they served us New England Clam Chowder. Yum! I forget where they got it, but they said it was the tastiest one they have found and we have to agree. SP was especially happy because, well, it was soup and he loves soup.

Dinner was leftover Thanksgiving food - I again ate too much of the delicious stuffing!

And then early on Saturday we were on our way home, through the snow flurries, past the wreck on I80 East, home to a very chilly Saturday evening. After SP ran out to buy some food for the week, we ordered a chicken-bacon-spinach pizza from Pizza Milano and watched TV.

And then Thanksgiving Break was over.

It was a great, if short, visit to MA and we're looking forward to seeing them at the end of December.

We didn't do any Black Friday shopping (other than going to Costco for the yearly cookbook and then Target for emergency slippers for me), but we did go to Yankee Candle Village in S. Deerfield, MA. It's huge! So many different scents - my nose was getting confused! Some of the more interesting scents:  Riding Mower, Schnitzel & Noodles, Brown Paper Packages, Bright Copper Kettles, Man Town, Warm Woolen Mittens, and Kitten Whiskers - !!!!!! I wonder how they come up with these scents?!

We debated between 2 candle scents for the holiday, and in the end, North Pole won. The living room now smells like 'icy cool mint and sugary rich vanilla cream.'

The combination of snow flurries & suddenly cold temperatures (making it feel like the North Pole!), turkey & stuffing, and holiday candle smells has finally propelled me into the Christmas mood. I'm still a little behind in my usual holiday 'cheer' - I haven't finalized the Christmas Cookie list (much to my mother's horror) but that's because we have a very, very busy December coming up. My mind is racing in a million different directions.

Finally, the last 2 stages of the basement project will commence and hopefully, finish (ripping off the stupid carpet on the basement stairway walls and drywalling/painting plus a few other basement things followed by new basement carpet and new carpet for SP's office). So we have a lot of stuff to pack and move around and throw out in preparation for that work (SP's office is a disaster zone of piled papers, magazines, and who knows what else, I rarely venture in, but I'll have to in order to help get stuff moved out so new carpet can go in), plus we have to get ready for guests, plus decorate for Christmas, buy each other and the nieces/nephews gifts, there's several holiday parties on the calendar, and most importantly, bake all those cookies! Plus there are several doctor appointments! And hair appointments!

I really didn't want any of this basement stuff going on in December, I wanted it all done by the end of November, but sometimes things are beyond your control. Like the basement guy being off by 2+ months on his estimate of when he'd be able to start the work. It's not like we really had time to find and line up someone else. So we will manage the best we can, and if the house is a little messy from all this work, if only 4 kinds of cookies get baked, if I lose my mind, well, that's the way it goes. I am thankful that my mom planned to come in mid-December, so she will be here to help us clean up/organize after everything is finished. My mom knows how to get stuff done. She'll probably have everything whipped into shape before we even know what's happening!!!

Happy Holidays!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Taste of Dahntahn

Last Saturday, SP and I had tickets to see War Horse at the Benedum. Amazing show! Those puppet horses made me get all teary and I heard more than a few sniffles at the performance! Anyway, we decided to try a new to us restaurant and use one of our Pittsburgh Dining Cards. We chose Taste of Dahntahn.
Turns out, the Light Up Weekend parade route went right past the restaurant. Since weren't seated near a window, we didn't get to see the parade, but that's OK. Parades, crowds, music at Market Square - it was reminiscent our St. Patrick's Day experience when we saw La Cages Aux Folles at the Benedum and tried to dine at NOLA.
I'm not sure what to make of Taste of Dahntahn. They take reservations, so we made one, just in case. When we arrived, there were a few people in the bar, but no one else. Upon entering I thought, hmmm, not what I was expecting, seems kind of pizza-pub like and what's with these white & red leather stools and these round formica tables and where the heck is the hostess station? We finally asserted ourselves since no one seemed to want to approach us and were seated through the bar and in the back dining area. I still wasn't sure what to make of the place.
The tables seemed to have black and white photos of Pittsburgh on them. But not ours - ours was a round table covered with a very long white tablecloth. As I was looking over the menu, it seemed much smaller than the menu I had seen online and I didn't see the pre-theater specials, so I asked. Turns out that because of Light Up Night they were not offering the pre-theater specials and the menu was stripped down. Hmmm... Kind of annoying since I had just been on the site and I hadn't seen any information about lack of pre-theater menu because of a special Light Up Weekend shortened menu. Frankly, I was pretty darn disappointed and annoyed.
Feeling a bit disheartened, I simply ordered iced tea. So did SP. While it was fresh brewed and tasty, both the water and iced tea were served in clear, disposable, plastic cups. Um, really? Plastic cups? I wonder of that's the normal, or a special Light Up Night thing. I was shocked and kind of... appalled. Is it too much to expect a real glass/cup?
We decided to share two meals. First, the Chicken on the Half, honey/rosemary sous vide chicken with herbed risotto and broccolini. The risotto was very good, flavorful, creamy, I couldn't stop eating it. The broccolini was good, simply steamed. The chicken was huge and very tasty. The seasoning tasted very paprika-y. Crispy skin, tender chicken, I could cut my chicken pieces with my fork.
Our second choice, the Margherita Pizza. A thin crust, but not too thin, pretty substantial but not thick, lots of a thick tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, basil. Good pizza. I can think of places with pizza I personally find tastier, but I can also think of a lots of places with worse tasting pizza! So a good, safe choice.
 For dessert, SP tried the Lemon Souffle. He said it was lemony and light and delicious.
I got the doughnuts, of course. Cinnamon Spice 'N Everything Nice with cinnamon glaze. There were about 8, very hot, freshly fried, dusted with sugar and some cinnamon glaze plus more glaze for dipping, tasty dough.

Our server was very nice. He kept our iced teas filled, didn't rush us.

I just.. I left kind of confused about the place. The food was good but not great, prices didn't seem too bad (a 14" pizza, the entree, 2 iced teas, 2 desserts was $49) and it helped that we had a Pittsburgh Dining Card. I think the interior from front bar area to back dining area doesn't really track and definitely isn't my style, although I did really like the Pittsburgh photo topped tables. The decor also didn't seem to match what I expected from the web site and online menu and name of the restaurant.

We decided that maybe it has a bit of an identity crisis, but one with tasty iced tea, doughnuts, and chicken. I would go back, if only to dine there on a night with the full menu and the pre-theater menu and see what it is like. And to see if we again get disposable plastic cups that make me feel like I am at a keg party. **NOTE: SP says the server told us the plastic cups were for Light Up Night only, but I must have missed that. I still wish at least the diners if not the bar patrons had been served in real glasses! Taste of Dahntahn on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Arlecchino

For my birthday dinner, SP & I decided to try Arlecchino in McMurray. Arlecchino used to be The Classroom restaurant, and before becoming a restaurant, the building was Thompson School House and I think I saw a stone on the outside of the building with the year 1907 & Thompsonville engraved on it. Arlecchino opened in October 2011 and is a 'sister restaurant' of Alla Famiglia in the Allentown section of Pittsburgh.
Our reservations were for 6:30 pm and even though we were a bit early, we were seated right away. I really liked the atmosphere. It was cozy, but the tables weren't too close together and you couldn't overhear nearby conversations. There was music, but it wasn't too loud. It looked like there was a bar area upstairs.
I really enjoy visiting/dining in old buildings and often wish that we could live in an old home, a home older than our home, one with a lot of history and all those wonderful old characteristics. I kept looking around, imagining this as as a school, remembering that the first house my parents bought in Peters Twp. was on Thompsonville Road, that the restaurant is very near to my parents' second house, the one I think of as the house in which I grew up. 
I do not know much about Italian wines, so I was going to order the only white I recognized, a sauvignon blanc, but unfortunately they did not have the sauvignon blanc that evening. Our server suggested two other whites and brought me a tasting of each. I settled on one, Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico. I can't remember much about the taste, other than I really liked it, which means it wasn't too sweet, and it had a nice fruity taste but not overly fruity. Verdicchio is the grape, a yellow-green grape from central Italy. The producer is Garofoli.
Our server brought warm bread while we pondered our appetizer options. A dark brown, pumpernickel like bread and a white bread. Both were quite good. There was a plate of olive oil for dipping, but since I could see the garlic in it, I didn't dip.
SP dipped, and he said it was delicious. 
We decided to start with one of the appetizers our server suggested: the Smoked Provolone with black winter truffles, arugula, and parmesan. The cheese is seared on a hot griddle so it has a lovely browned, crunchy exterior while the interior is ooey and gooey and delicious. The arugula and truffles add a nice extra flavor so it's not like you're just eating melted cheese, which is, of course, to me, quite delicious, but even more delicious when eaten with an additional ingredient/flavor like this. There were two triangular wedges, which was just enough as we munched on the bread.
The meals come with a salad. Mixed greens, beets, sunflower seeds, raisins, goat cheese, and a red wine vinegar dressing that has garlic in it, so our server brought me small ramekins of balsamic vinegar and olive oil so I could dress my salad as desired. The goat cheese was melted and drizzled. I don't normally enjoy beets or raisins, but with the greens and goat cheese they were quite tasty, plus they were not so abundant as to be overpowering. It was definitely a nice portion size. I didn't finish my entire salad, but SP finished it for me. I can almost always count on him to finish any leftover vegetable part of a meal!
The 'meat/fish' entrees also come with a side of pasta; the pasta entrees do not. Fusilli with Vodka Sauce. Spirals of fresh pasta, quite delicate, in a delicious sauce with fresh basil on top. The pasta is served with a bottle of chili oil so that you can spice it up as you wish. I did not spice, SP did spice his up a bit. We each ate about half because we wanted to save room for our meals. 
SP's main meal: Sea Bass with arugula, lump crab, and a white butter sauce. He said it was delicious. I can never get much more out of him than that! The piece of fish was huge. He ate all the crab chunks and half the fish.
My main meal: Cottoletta del Monzu - scallopini of veal finished with fresh mozzarella, colossal lump crab, arugula, and toasted pine nuts. Oh my gosh. I think this is the best veal scallopini I've ever had at a restaurant. The veal was not too thin, it was a very nice thick scallopini, which means that it didn't dry out/get tough like very thin veal can. I don't know if it was the quality of the veal or the quality of the cooking, but this is the first time I've had such tender and moist veal scallopini. The coating on the veal was delicious. There were three large scallopini. I ate one plus all of the giant chunks of crab and most of the arugula then took the rest home. 
Part of our strategy of not eating all the pasta and all of our main meals was to save room for dessert and not leave feeling overly stuffed. We definitely had just enough room for some after dinner coffee and a piece of tiramisu. It was a raspberry and toasted almond tiramisu.  The thing I like about tiramisu, aside form it's delicious flavor, is that it seems a lighter dessert, lighter than a  piece of pie or a scoop of ice cream or a piece of rich and decadent chocolate cake or a piece of cheesecake. 

This was light and delicious and full of a not overly sweet and cloying raspberry flavor as well as lots of toasted almonds. I think I like this raspberry tiramisu better than traditional tiramisu. We ate it all.

Which means we failed to depart not overly stuffed!

So, full disclosure, PM gave us a gift card for Arlecchino as a thank you for SP fixing some computer issues for her last spring. One of PM's two children works at Arlecchino and was our server for the evening. One could argue that our service was so great because we knew our server, but remember that we enjoy people watching and seeing what other people order, and it seemed to us that all the servers were quite good. Friendly, not too formal, offering recommendations on food and wine. 

Given Arlecchino's price point, this is a 'special occasion' place for us (birthday, anniversary, etc.).

I was a little apprehensive going in because of some comments and reviews on sites like Urbanspoon and Yelp. We both are quite surprised by some of the negative comments. Some people complained about the price, but given that the salad and pasta side are included in the price at Arlecchino while other places charge separately, I'm a little confused. If you figure out an a la carte price for a side salad and a side of pasta at a more upscale restaurant in the area and subtract it from the cost of our entrees, the entree prices are in line with those at other similar restaurants. Our bill, for an appetizer, 2 meals with salad and pasta sides, dessert, and one beer was $117 plus tax plus tip. The bottle of wine was a gift from PM to us and thus not included in our bill. When I looked at the wine list, the price per glass of wine seemed to be the usual. It seemed to us that Arlecchino was as much as when we dine at Wild Rosemary, Eleven, Bistro 19, or Casbah and can also depend of how much, if any, liquor one orders.

I also saw some comments about the bare wood tables, but when we went, all the tables were covered with white table cloths and we received fresh utensils for each course.

Arlecchino is definitely a restaurant to which we will return and it's a place I would suggest to my parents the next time they are in town.

Arlecchino Ristorante on Urbanspoon

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Pittsburgh Dining Cards Winner

The winner of the Pittsburgh Dining Cards is:


Comment #3 - Barb. Congratulations!


Thursday, November 8, 2012

Happy Birthday To Me: Turkey Devonshire

Every year, I get a birthday brunch (Sunday brunch at a Big Burrito restaurant), a birthday dinner (restaurant of my choice), and a birthday meal at home (SP cooks whatever I want). I know, I am spoiled. Usually for my home cooked meal I choose macaroni & cheese with breaded chicken and a vegetable. Sometimes lasagna. But this year, I demanded something that in our 5+ years together we have never made but that I had made for myself before we met: Turkey Devonshire.
There was resistance. I could see the horror on SP's face. White toast. Bacon. Cheese sauce. Butter. Grated parmesan. He knew he had promised me whatever I wanted and I wanted Turkey Devonshire, and yet... I knew he wasn't happy. He kept mumbling, not in a good way, that this turkey devonshire thing must be some crazy Pittsburgh thing, he'd never heard of it, never had it, blah, blah.

He's right. It is some crazy Pittsburgh thing. Supposedly, it was in 1935 at the Stratford Club that Mr. Blandi invented the Devonshire. Because the Stratford Club sounded English and Devonshire Street intersected Centre Avenue in Oakland, and that also sounded English, Mr. Blandi, who was looking for an English-sounding name for his new sandwich, decided to call it Devonshire. Mr. Blandi also started the Pittsburgh Playhouse, the Park Schenley, and LeMont. 

The Devonshire is very similar to the Hot Brown sandwich created at the Brown Hotel in Louisville, KY.

Anyway, normally, I'd have changed my mind, because I love SP, but, I really, really wanted turkey devonshire. So I added a side of steamed broccoli to the menu. He was somewhat appeased.
So last Sunday we buttered a casserole dish, placed a slice of toasted Cellone's Italian bread in it, topped it with slices of the turkey cutlets we roasted, then added bacon and sliced tomatoes, ladled cheese sauce over it, sprinkled the top with parmesan and paprika, baked until bubbly hot, and enjoyed. Well, I enjoyed. I think SP ate it under protest.
So yummy! Notice that I didn't include any photos of the broccoli!!

To be fair, on the non-turkey devonshire days this week, we ate vegetable soup, loaded with celery, carrots, green beans, peas, onions, tomatoes, and barley. So I figure it evens out.

So tonight, on my actual birthday, we will be having the third and final turkey devonshire meal of the week, and I will mop up every last bit of glorious cheese sauce. Then I will brew a large mug of my current favorite tea (Clementine Clove) and eat the last piece of Bethel Bakery birthday cake (which we have been enjoying since last Saturday - chocolate cake with cherry filling and that delicious buttercream icing) while snuggling with SP on the couch and watching our usual Thursday night TV shows. Sounds like a lovely birthday evening to me.

Here's the recipe I use for turkey devonshire, clipped out of a long ago issue of The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

Frank Blandi's Original Devonshire Sandwich

3/4 stick butter, melted
1 cup flour
1/4 pound Cheddar cheese, grated
1 pint chicken broth
1 pint hot milk
1 teaspoon salt

Cream Sauce:

Melt butter in deep pan and add flour, stirring constantly. Add chicken broth and then hot milk, stirring all the while. Add cheese and salt. Bring to boil and then cook slowly for 20 minutes, still stirring. Cool to lukewarm. Beat with wire whip until smooth before using. This makes enough sauce for 6 Devonshire sandwiches.

For each sandwich:

1 slice toast, crusts trimmed off
3 slices crisp bacon
5 thin slices cooked turkey breast
Cream Sauce, recipe above
Melted butter 
Parmesan cheese and paprika

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

In each flat, individual oven-proof casserole dish, place 1 slice of toast and top with 3 slices bacon. Add 5 thin slices of cooked turkey breast. Cover completely with cream sauce. Sprinkle with a little melted butter, then with the combined Parmesan cheese and paprika. Bake 10 to 15 minutes or until golden brown. 

**I always add tomato slices

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Brunch at Eleven

It's that time again. Early November is birthday time, and that means that we again used my Big Burrito Birthday Coupon for Sunday Brunch. This year, I chose Eleven for brunch. As usual, service was terrific and the food delicious. Especially my beignets. And the cannoli dessert.
I had a mimosa for my brunch cocktail. SP decided to try the Bloody Trio: Bloody Mary (vodka, pickled vegetable), Bloody Maria (tequila, tomatillo, cilantro), and Bloody Molly (whiskey, celery). He liked the Mary best and found the Maria was spicier than he expected.

The bread basket: mini biscuits, mini muffins, and a croissant.

Raspberry jam and honey butter

Flaky croissant

Beignets, apple, brandy, ginger sugar. Pillowy puffs of fried dough dusted with sugar in a yummy sauce with thin slivers of apple. Moist, warm, delicious interiors. 

Duck Hash. SP's appetizer. He really liked it and it disappeared before I had much chance to inspect his plate!

Smoked Lamb Huevos Rancheros, fried eggs, tomatillo salsa, goat cheese, refried lentils. SP's entree. A little too spicy/too much Mexican flavor for me (I tried a bite of the lamb; this kind of cuisine & its flavors/seasonings are not one of my favorites), but he really liked it. The lamb was very tender and flavorful and there was a very generous mound of the lamb. 

Mushroom, Roasted Red Pepper, and Goat Cheese Omelet, fingerling potatoes, bacon or sausage. Fluffy omelet, not browned on the exterior, lots of filling, delicious sausage - but such a big portion! After eating all the beignets and the bread basket goodies, I could only manage about half my omelet and I brought the rest home.

Roasted Pear Cannoli. Of course we had to have dessert. Three mini cannoli with a delicious and creamy filling, pistachios on the ends, roasted pear bits, a creamy sauce. Just the right size for sharing as we sipped some post meal hot tea and relaxed.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Pittsburgh City Dining Cards & A Giveaway!


A few weeks ago, City Dining Cards launched in Pittsburgh. The idea is simple: support local restaurants, save some money while dining at those local restaurants, and help fight hunger. $20 gets you a deck of dining cards. Each deck has cards for 50 different restaurants, offering $10 off purchases of $30 or more (excluding tax, tip, and alcohol) and there are 2 bonus cards, one for a free beer at Church Brew Works and one for a free coffee/espresso at Espresso a Mano.

You could save $500! There are some great places in the dining deck! We have dined at several places and can't wait to go back, and some are places we have been wanting to try.

The best part: City Dining Cards will donate 5% of sales of the Pittsburgh edition to the Greater Pittsburgh Food Bank.
A deck of City Dining Cards costs $20 and can be purchased online at www.citydiningcards.com and Pittsburgh-area retailers including Marty's Market, Pavement, and Whole Foods. Cards are valid now through December 31, 2013.
This card chosen because of all the restaurants in the deck, this one is closest to us, plus we've dined here and enjoyed it. Our visit recap here.

Each card gives you the general location (West End, Downtown, Squirrel Hill, etc.) plus the actual address plus hours, phone number, web site, if credit cards are accepted, and if there are vegetarian, gluten free, or vegan options.

So spend $20, get a deck of cards to some fantastic local restaurants, redeem just two cards and you've got your $20 back, redeem even more cards and you'll save even more, plus - you're helping the Greater Pittsburgh Food Bank in their fight against hunger.

I was fortunate enough to be contacted about these dining cards and while I was not able to attend the launch event, I was happy to agree to write a blog post to help get the word out. The folks at Pittsburgh Dining Cards were kind enough to offer a deck of cards for me to give away on the blog.

So here's the deal: leave a comment (and please leave your email) telling me which of these restaurants you would most like to try. Everyone likes additional chances to win, so if you tweet about this giveaway, that will be an additional entry, be sure to leave a comment that you tweeted about it. If you like Pittsburgh City Dining Cards on Facebook, that will count as another entry, just leave me a comment that you 'liked' them.

These would make great gifts for fellow food lovers/dining out lovers. Check out the City Dining Cards site here.

You have until Friday, November 9 at 11:59 pm to enter! I'll randomly draw the winner on Saturday, November 10.

Good luck!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Pumpkin Risotto with Goat Cheese & Bacon

After hanging onto summer as long as possible, I've finally accepted fall. That's strange to me because usually as soon as the calendar says September, I am ready for cooler weather, colored leaves, crunchy leaves, pumpkins, apples, cinnamon, sweaters, and Halloween.

I'm not sure what made me think of pumpkin risotto. Maybe becasue we still have risotto in the soon to expire bag of risotto. Maybe because it makes a nice all in one meal that's easy to reheat. Maybe because SP likes risotto a lot. But I am so glad I looked up some recipes for pumpkin risotto.
This was very tasty, especially with the goat cheese and bacon sprinkled on top. It turned out creamy, as it should. But I think it could use a wee bit more pumpkin oomph. Maybe some bits of roasted squash mixed in? Maybe some more canned pumpkin puree mixed into the broth, or directly into the risotto?

We used onion instead of leeks. We were very generous with the nutmeg - I love nutmeg. Adding some cinnamon and/or cloves would be good, too, just be careful with the cloves because ground cloves have a strong flavor!
We ate it with some arugula and Pork Medallions with Mustard-Chive Sauce.

Pumpkin Risotto recipe here.