Friday, April 24, 2009


I recently joined Twitter. I'm still not sure I really understand it--or rather, understand the hype, but I'm in. I can't stand to be left out.

One of the people I follow is China Millman, the restaurant critic for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Thanks to her tweet this morning, I saw that she has a new blog on the PPG site. You can find it here. The most recent post is about more accolades being heaped onto, as you know, one of my favorite restaurants ever...Eleven, how I love thee. I work for the same parent company as Eleven, and speak to and email the chefs there pretty often. Sometimes I send them fan letters. Sometimes I let it slip that I have a chef-crush on Chef Derek Stevens. Sometimes then he doesn't write back, and possibly is afraid. I have that effect on people.

I'm actually visiting another of our restaurants this evening--Kaya, here I come! It's always delicious. I've been looking at the menu this morning trying to decide what I'll enjoy later. It's hard to decide. The tuna dish that I tried of E-dawg's that pushed me into pescatarianism is on the menu. I might have to get that. But the Edamame and Shittake Risotto sounds pretty fantastic, too. Oh, dang.

In other news, Barbara and I went down to the WV/PA border last weekend, and met up with my parents to visit a ramp festival. It was great to see them, and the ramp offerings were yummy (well, most of them--I suggest you avoid the ramp wine). I got sunburnt to a crisp, and forgot to buy fresh ramps when we were leaving, but it was a success apart from that. I just realized that my pictures are on another computer, so I'll have to post them later.

Anyhow, have a nice weekend, folks. xoxo

Monday, April 13, 2009

oh, cool!

I was just looking up something on, and saw this:

now, that's good eatin! Pittsburgh restaurants

So cool!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

birthday & easter eggstravaganza

My birthday this year was pretty low-key, but also just perfect. I had a fun Work Birthday Celebration on Thursday (my birthday eve), and we got lunch from Dormont Dogs and one of the most fantastic cakes I've ever tasted and seen from Vanilla Pastry Studio. (the folks at big Burrito know how to celebrate).

Dormont Dogs is a little venture started by Chef Captain Barnes and his wife, and they make the best dogs I've ever had. Great ingredients and clever combinations make for some delicious hot dog fare. You can almost get everything on the menu in a veggie dog version *and* they have sweet tea on the menu. It doesn't get much better than that. We had a FEAST.

And, if that wasn't enough, the cake that Vanilla sent over was just unbelievable. I'm sad I didn't get some pics of it, but it just didn't last long enough for that. It was a four-layer vanilla cake with a melt-in-your-mouth, light-as-air buttercream, covered in shaved coconut. And, between the layers alternated the buttercream and the most delicate and perfectly tart lemon cream. The cake was so moist, and while I'm sure it was far from a "lite" treat, it tasted so light, so spring, so sunny, so delicious that even after consuming my fair share of slices, I still can't stop thinking of it. Really, really stellar.

And, that was just Birthday Eve!

On the day itself, Barbara gave me some fantastic handmade gifts, and we had a quiet evening at home. Check out The Meerkat Johaansen with his new friend The Meerkat Snicklefritz! You should have seen them laughing and playing!


On the next day, Barbara made me breakfast in bed, and I had a half-industrious/half-lazy afternoon around the house. In the evening, we went out for my birthday dinner at Eleven (my favorite restaurant in town) where Chef Derek Stevens works magic with food as his medium. We had the Chef's Vegetarian Tasting Menu (this is available every day, folks!). The meal was beautiful, and we even lucked into an extra course that the chef sent out for us to try. Here's the run-down...

Amuse Bouche:
a tiny little grilled cheese sandwich on house-made bread with morels, Upland Farms Pleasant Ridge Reserve cheese and ramp pesto.

A fantastic way to start the meal! My first taste of morels and ramps for the season, and a taste of a cheese that I'd been wanting to try since Chef Bill Fuller declared it "the best cheese produced in America".

First Course: Soup and Salad
golden beet puree, whipped goat cheese, sumac
Three Sister’s Farm mesclun, olives, lemon, garlic, mint

A beautiful plate. The greens in the salad were so perfectly tender, and expertly dressed with a hint of lemon, and balanced with briny olives and delicate mint. Lovely.
The soup was the texture of velvet, and delectably sweet, and nicely balanced by the tang of the goat cheese. There was another odd taste that I couldn't place in my tastebud memory banks--I guess the sumac? I don't know anything about it. Will have to do some googling.

Second Course: Asparagus and Peas
raclette, sauce gribiche, fingerling potato crisp

This dish was Spring personified. Not only was it just a beautiful plate, but it had it all--bursting with seasonal freshness, rich colors, a mix of bold and delicate flavors and a little whimsy thrown in.
This was the only photo I took during the meal. I wish I'd captured everything, but I was too busy enjoying everything to concentrate on documenting it. But, really, wow. I'd never had sauce gribiche, but our server described it as a "tartar sauce, in vinaigrette form". It was briny with little capers, lemony, and super-fresh tasting while also being rich and satisfying. A perfect foil for the tender spring veggies. And, the tiny little whisper-thin fingerling potato chips were the perfect topping. Not only completely adorable, their crispness provided yet another layer of texture. Again, wow.

Bonus course!
Morel and Ricotta Ravioli
ramp pesto, Swiss chard, Parmigiano Reggiano

This is one of those moments that make me love my job. Getting to work with really talented chefs, and best of all--getting to try the fruits of their labor! The chef sent out this plate for us to try, and it was easily one of our favorites of the night. The ravioli were pillow soft, and stuffed with a rich ricotta and morel filling, and topped with some braised ramps and Swiss chard with a drizzle of ramp pesto. Fantastic!!!

Third Course:
Trumpet Royale
dandelion greens, semolina gnocchi, cipollini onions, balsamic vinegar

The main course was our least favorite, but it still had some great components. The mushrooms themselves were lovely (the surface just perfectly scored), but the texture just was a little tough. We ate around those to try the perfectly bitter dandelion greens and the rich little gnocchis. Yum.

Ehrrin - Meyer Lemon Meringue Shortcake
lemon ice cream, lemon curd, blueberry hibiscus tea, candied lemon

Oh! This plate was just beautiful! And, the lemon ice cream was rich and sweet, but the curd and blueberry tea was tart. The meringue and the shortcake rounded the whole thing out, and it was just divine. How I love a lemon dessert!
Barbara - S’more
marshmallow ice cream, graham cracker, milk chocolate Godiva mousse

Mmm! Rich and light at the same time! The mousse probably was the standout here, but the whole plate was just amazing. I had to sneak several bites to confirm.

Salted Caramels

Ah, a perfect send-off for our last bite. Perfectly lovely little caramels, just with a hint of saltiness and with the bottom coated in a superfine granulated sugar.

A meal to remember indeed! Oh, Eleven, how I love thee!
Eleven on Urbanspoon


And that brings us to Easter morning. Barbara and I both woke up to Easter baskets chock full of tempting treats (the first thing I tried was a Smoked Chocolate square...interesting). And, after we'd dug through our baskets, I went to the kitchen to unpeel the eggs I prepped yesterday. I'd seen a photo of these on my favorite food porn site, Tastespotting , and needed to know more. The photo was from the Barefoot Kitchen Witch blog, and she walks you through a step-by-step of how to create these stunning Easter treats. I can't believe how simple it was! I'm following her to a tee, and making deviled eggs with them for our Easter dinner at Barbara's sister's house this afternoon. I hope everyone is as charmed as we are!

Happy Easter folks!



Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

preserved lemons - manna from heaven

I had my first taste of preserved lemon when some delicate little curls of them were stationed atop a delicious spring risotto last year at Casbah. I am a lover of all things lemony, and these little bites bursting with salty, lemony brightness just rocked my world. But, it was one of the things I assumed was strictly the business of restaurants, and that I could never make something that ethereal in my own humble kitchen. But, then I stumbled across a very simple recipe for them, and undertook it--only about 20 minutes of kitchen time, and then a couple months of waiting, and voila: perfection!

I looked at a bunch of recipes online, and ultimately decided to forego any added seasonings because I wanted to be able to use them for a variety of purposes--although next time I might do them the Morroccan way because that sounds utterly heavenly, too. (David Lebovitz has some nice instructions and recipes here). So, next time you're at the market, grab a big bag of organic lemons (you definitely want organic here since you're going to be eating the skin), and some coarse sea salt, a jar, and you're ready to go.

Here's what I did:
Scrub 12 organic lemons (I preserved 8 of them, and used the others just for their juice). Here's another tip: whenever I'm juicing citrus, I always zest it first--whether or not I need it for the recipe--and keep it in the freezer. That way I always have some zest on hand when I need it. It's pretty great for sprinkling on lots of things.

Anyhow, I scrubbed my lemons, and juiced 4 of them. I got my jar ready, and made sure it and the lid were scrubbed clean. For the other eight lemons that were on their way to being preserved, I cut just the hard tip off of both ends, and then on one end I cut vertically twice in an X shape until about 1 1/2" from the other end (so, like you're quartering it lengthwise, but stopping shy of separating the quarters).

Now, you want to pack those babies with the salt--don't be shy, really pack it in there. And, throw about 1" of salt in the bottom of your jar. Now, start loading up the jar with the lemons, and really squish them in there tightly to get them to give up some juice. Keep doing this until all your lemons are packed in tightly, and squished. Throw another few tablespoons of salt over them, and then fill up the jar to the tippy-top with the lemon juice. Now, just set it on your kitchen counter, and admire it. And, also give it a few turns/shakes daily for about 4-6 weeks.

Now, open them up, and enjoy! You're going to use the rind here, so just slice it off, and discard the flesh. Use it in pretty much everything.

I used it to make a really fantastic risotto for Sunday Dinner. I just made a straight-up risotto: melt some butter, add some onion and garlic (1/2 an onion and 3 cloves of garlic), cook for a few minutes, add the aborio rice (2 cups), cook for a couple more minutes, and then start adding broth--and a couple glugs of marsala--1 cup at a time, stir, stir, stir while it soaks up each addition (adding about 3-4 cups of broth all told). It should take about 20-25 minutes. Then finish it with whatever goodness you want. For this one I added: 1/2 c. grated parmesan, some freshly ground pepper, some chopped chives and basil, and one of my preserved lemons (sliced off the skin of 1 lemon, and did a small dice). Sprinkle it with a little more of each of those things upon serving. I'd planned to also add some steamed asparagus and peas, but forgot. Ah well, still fantastic.

I served that as a main dish with some roasted green beans with onions, garlic, toasted walnuts and a drizzle of balsamic (from a Mollie Katzen recipe in The New Moosewood Cookbook), and some chive-parmesan popovers (from this month's Vegetarian Times magazine - April 2009). FYI - if you make those popovers, add a little more salt and pepper than the recipe calls for; and I made some in a proper popover pan, and the rest in a regular muffin tin. The ones in the popover pan turned out way better (the muffin tin ones were a little tough on the outer edge, as opposed to the popover pan ones that were perfectly crisp-ish).

It was a lovely meal, and tasted of spring--especially with the gorgeous weather (and then there's today - snow!? really?!). Here's a pic. See those lovely little flecks of preserved lemon in the risotto. Pure love.


ps. stay tuned. Barbara and I are having dinner at Eleven on Friday for my birthday. I can't wait!