Archive | December, 2010

Hangover food

31 Dec

Epicurious has the scientific explanation for why you wake up after a night on the town and immediately start craving certain foods.  Turns out your body knows what its doing when it starts those cravings.  The article lists eggs, pancakes, bacon, and bananas, and chocolate as five foods full of what your hungover body needs.  Looking at this list of foods and the reasons they help explain my hangover cravings, though I think sometimes I misidentify the urge.  My Top Ten Hangover Cure Countdown:

10.  Mexi Casa Queso dip.  I once had to drive my daughter to a friends house in Upper St. Claire. I woke up with a creeping hangover, meaning I felt ok when I woke up but by the time I dropped her off and headed home, I thought I was going to die.  I stopped at Mexi Casa and got some of this dip to eat at home. But the enticing smell and the insistent hangover resulted in me eating all of it in the car as I drove down Liberty Ave, through the Liberty tubes, and on the parkway.  By the time I got home both me and the steering wheel were covered in queso dip and my hangover had abated  a little.

9.  Cambodican Sea food won tons.  Oh man, if we manage to order enough to have some left over the next day, these are wonderful heated up (or cold) to keep the hangover gods at bay.

8.  Bloody mary and smoked salmon with cream cheese, capers, and toast points. (Yes, I crave fancy brunch food and the hair of the dog)

7.  Whatever is left in the house from the party that got me hungover (see 6).  I often wake up craving whatever I was eating the night before. Including New Years Eve 2008/2009 when I woke up craving Brussels Sprouts.

6.  Cheese, bread and olives. (probably left over from the hangover inducing event but I will independently crave this sometimes)

5.  French Fries, preferably loaded.

4.  Pamelas Pancakes and Lyonaisse Potatoes.  One of my favorite non hangover foods, the sweetness of the pancakes is a little hit and miss for me on a hangover.

3. Quiet Storm Home Fries.  Potatoes, eggs, aoli, fake sausage, its all there.

2. Cheese and Egg sandwich, with fake or real meat, on anything.  Can be made at home and obtained almost anywhere. My hangover cravings are nothing if not practical.

1. Alka seltzer.  Ok, its not a food, but without it, the staying power of cravings 2-10 is dubious, so it earns a top spot on my hangover cure menu.

So what are your hangover favorites?


End of Year Giving

29 Dec

It’s that time of year when folks try to sure up their tax write offs for the year, or something like that…

Never having been either financially secure or financially savvy I’m not sure what end of year giving is about, but I hear it is a thing.  So here are several local options for your end of year giving that I recommend highly.  (Full disclosure, I’m on the board of the first three organizations and the third project is my baby)


Best Buddies Ball 2010

Best Buddies is a non profit organization that helps create one-on-one friendships between students with intellectual disabilities and their non disabled peers.  Founded in 1989 by Anthony Kennedy Shriver it has chapters in 46 countries and across the United States. Western PA Best Buddies, where I serve on the advisory board, serves nearly 2 dozen middle and high schools and colleges.

Why Best Buddies: The Story
A couple of years ago Riley came home from school one day full of her usual (non-stop) chatter.

Suddenly she stopped and said “People can be so mean.”  Uh-oh, I thought. Someone called her “french fry” again.  “What happened?” I asked.  She went on to tell me about a younger “special needs” student who walks around the lunch room and the playground asking people “will you be my friend?”  That day when she got to Riley’s table, Riley’s friend snapped at the girl, told her “NO” and told her to go away.

“I was so mad! ” Riley told me.  “She looked so sad and she can’t help it. So I told Lizzy she was mean and got up and told the girl I’d be her friend and played with her.”

From that point Riley took an interest in making sure this girl was not abused by the kids on the playground.

From the mouths of babes. I was so moved by this event and by Riley’s genuine generosity of spirit.  When I went looking for organizations to volunteer for as board members I imagined participating in progressive organizations much like I generally support. But then I found Best Buddies and inspired by Riley, and in honor of her, I joined the board.


I love food (duh). Fresh food is sooooo much better than canned, and fresh fresh is sooooo much better than old fresh food….umm does that make sense?  In other words food is best right after you pick it from the garden.

I also am terrified that we are rapidly killing the planet with wanton recklessness.  I’d like to leave my kids and their kids a chance at a long healthy life on earth.

And I love Pittsburgh. I understand patriotism through my devotion to the ‘Burgh.

So Grow Pittsburgh is an ideal organization for me to give my love and devotion.

Grow Pittsburgh’s mission is to demonstrate, teach and promote responsible urban food production.  They run Braddock Farms, a greenhouse at the Frick Art and Historical Center, and large garden in Homewood.  Grow Pittsburgh Also runs a program called the Edible School Yard and has a number of other efforts supporting their mission.  The produce they grow goes to local restaurants and to a few farm stands in neighborhoods like Braddock, which as many of you know is a food desert.   I love Grow Pittsburgh for intertwining several of the great loves of my life; good food, ameliorating and eliminating poverty, supporting local, and overall sustainability.  It’s the perfect embodiment of the concept of Einstein’s Desk!

Greater Community Food Bank

Again;  food, helping people, ameliorating poverty…so much to love about the Food Bank.  Another thing to love about the food bank is that it was started by one woman who saw a need and said “I can do something about that.”  I don’t know the entire story but Joyce Rothermel began the Food Bank in the mid 80s when the closing of all the Steel Mills left communities devastated and families with no where to turn.  Unfortunately the need has not gone away, especially in times like these.  Fortunately the Food Bank has grown and provides a tragically large number of meals every year.   But the need is never ending, so please consider giving to the GCFB as part of your yearly giving.  (Food donations are welcome as well).


Remember how awkward middle school was?

Imagine you are a seventh grade girl in foster care. Life is all sorts of awkward. For many local girls like this, some days are worse than awkward. For many girls in foster care or unstable family situations suddenly finding yourself in school, with your period, and WITHOUT supplies is an unfortunately regular occasion.

Planned Parenthood workers operating in local schools noted that many girls were relying on office staff for monthly supplies having little to no regular access through home. Generous office workers have been buying supplies out of their own money.

We think we can do better.

That’s where On the Spot comes in.

On the Spot is a  campaign to raise funds to help purchase supplies for local schools to hand out to girls who find themselves unsupplied and ‘on the spot.’

You can donate money to the cause or drop supplies at any local drop off spot. Planned Parenthood will receive the supplies and the cash which will go to helping local girls.

On the spot is a project of Desiree VanTassel and Jennifer England to address the scarcity of menstrual products for many young girls in low income communities in and around Pittsburgh.

All funds and products are distributed by Planned Parenthood of Western Pennsylvania in schools that have a demonstrated need for help.

Cooking with Booze–Infused Food

28 Dec

So not only did I infuse spirits with food, but I infused a lot of food with spirits this Holiday.  From gifts to dinner, nearly every course contained some sort of booze infused food. Ironically the one cookie I did not make this year is my favorite chocolate sambuca crinkles, but I guess I more than made up for it elsewhere.  If you get bored before finishing this post, make sure you skip to the bottom to read about (and then run off and make) the BEST THING I EVER ATE.

Vanilla Beer Syrup:

Made with Atwater Vanilla Java Porter (a beer I did not care for), brown sugar, cloves and Cinnamon, (and finished with butter) this heavenly syrup would be delicious on anything from pancakes (how about bourbon blueberry pancakes!) to pound cake.  (I left the recipe at home, I’ll put it into the comments later).  The taste is lusciously rich, with caramelly overtones and a lovely subtle bitter note thanks to the java in the porter.  This recipe came from the Market District Beer Food event referenced in the Duck Fat post.

We also enjoyed a caponata made with an IPA as part of our Christmas lunch (recipe to follow in comments) that also came from the Beer/food tasting at Giant Eagle.

Spiked Egg Nog

Look, if you’ve never had real, home made egg nog, you need to stop what you are doing and go make it…Now…I’ll wait…

Because it really is freaking to-die-for delicious.  I had a number of excellent recipes suggested, but I like the one over at A Year From Scratch. The only problem was I couldn’t find pasteurized eggs. (I know they probably had them at Whole Foods or Trader Joes, but I just couldn’t make it over there before Christmas eve.) So I had to resort to this cooked version from called The Ultimate Eggnog. I offered guests a choice for spiking, spiced rum, whiskey, or brandy.  I chose whiskey but a sampling of all of them tells me you can’t really go wrong with any of those choices.  It has become a Christmas tradition to drink heavenly/heavily spiked egg not while my daughter reads the classic poem The Night Before Christmas. It helps brace me for the 5 hours of wrapping presents that inevitably follows.



Green Peppercorn Sauce aka Brandy Sauce aka Holiday Flambe 2010

I don’t have pictures of the flambe of this sauce because I was all “HOLY SHIT” and “OH MY GOD” when it went up…and I do mean UP.

For those of you who don’t know, I live with a chef.  He went to the Culinary Institute of America (though I should mention he didn’t finish…Pittsburgh’s siren call pulled him home).  I love to cook and do quite a fair bit, but when I get in trouble in the kitchen I call in reinforcements. So when it came time to flambe this sauce, I called him. Mind you, it has A CUP of brandy in it, so when he did his chefy thing and tilted the pan to catch some flame, that fucker went to the ceiling in the kitchen. Not kidding.  It was spectacular!  My mother would have been proud, though she probably would have suggested I come up with a better word than “fucker.”  But flames to the ceiling seem too spectacular for the more genteel “bad boy”….

Anyway, the green peppercorn sauce for the Beef Wellington stood on it’s own frankly.  If you are looking for a rich sauce for meat or starch (my daughter ate it on her mashed potatoes actually) I’d strongly recommend giving this a try.

A word on the green peppercorns though. These are fun little buggers. They have a briny start that makes you think of capers and give a first impression of a lovely pickled condiment. But pretty quickly they show their fangs. They finish with a bite that is a big of a kick in the teeth. Not quite like eating a black pepper corn, but you definitely see what they are going to grow up to be.  I put in significantly less than the recipe called for, but I think I’d like to play with them.  I’m thinking a vodka infusion, with the brine saved to rim a martini glass or something.

Milk Chocolate Mousse w/ Port Ganache and Whipped Creme Fraiche aka The BEST THING I EVER ATE.  Really.

I am not a sweets person. Given my choice between potato and chocolate chips, I’ll take the potato every time.  I am the person who orders the cheese plate for desert.  That being said, the desert we had for Christmas was without a doubt the BEST THING I EVER ATE. Holy crap it was good.  The individual highlight of it was the Port Ganache. I ran around the house w/ a bunch of spoons insisting everyone taste it, it was sooooooooo freaking good.

The entire thing was a little labor intensive. But toooooootally worth it.  I cannot hyperbolize the goodness of this desert enough. And even though mine wasn’t as pretty as the picture on Epicurious, it was still a spectacular presentation with lumps instead of quinels.(<—I cannot find the correct spelling of this word!  Any one?)

The mousse is a cooked mousse, begun with a custard into which I added chopped milk chocolate, then folded in both whipped egg whites and whipped cream.

This makes a luscious milk chocolate mousse.

But the real star of the show is the Port Ganache.  It includes both Port Syrup made from reduced Port and unreduced Port, along with cream and milk chocolate.  It isn’t much to look at, but it is quite possibly the best bite of food I’ve ever had. I love it. I want to drink it by the gallon.  I want to fill a bath tub and bathe in it. I want to marry it.

Really, really, really effing good.  The complete desert is a warm pool of  luscious Port Ganache topped with quinels of Milk Chocolate Mouse and a slightly smaller one of Whipped Creme Fraiche then drizzled with the Port Syrup. It. Is. Decadent. But the unsweetened Whipped Creme Fraiche and the bite from the port really counter balance what could be cloying sweetness and heavy (heavenly) fat content.  This is a perfectly balanced dish.

In my next post I’ll tell you about that pancetta on the cutting board and the beef wellington part of the green peppercorn sauce.

Cooking with Booze-Infused Spirits

28 Dec

Ok, enough with the debate, it’s time for a topic we can all get behind!  Cooking with Booze!

I appreciate a good theme, and without intention, cooking with booze sort of became the theme of this holiday. From the gifts I gave to the food we ate, booze saturated the landscape.   A few years ago I had made lemoncello a few years ago and it was delicious, but I like to try new things. So I went looking for other recipes/how-toos on flavored booze.  The first thing I found was infused vodka instructions, which is great, because I love infused vodka.  So I decided to infuse some Vodka for one of my closest friends who also appreciates good and weird food.

The instructions included a lot of options but the three I settled on were:

Two Pepper and Garlic, Blueberry Vanilla, and Rosemary

The Rosemary is out of the jar because it was on the verge of funky.

Now I’m not a fan of overly spicy food, but this two pepper garlic vodka is hella good. It packs quite a kick. My lips were burning for a few minutes after just a sip, but the finish is surprisingly garlicky.  I wasn’t sure the garlic would stand up to the jalapeno and black pepper, but it did.  This vodka, along with the rosemary would make a great Bloody Mary. I also think the rosemary would make a wonderful martini with savory hints.

The blueberry vanilla vodka was more vanilla than blueberry. I’m nut sure how to get the blueberries to be more prominent. Perhaps removing the vanilla after a few days and leaving the blueberries longer. I think that will be the issue with other double/triple infusions as well.

The real win of the process though was the suggestion to infuse other spirits.  Bourbon, rum, and TEQUILA!   You can be sure that tequila is on my list to try.  But I have a friend who is a fan of bourbon and she deserved a pick me up this Christmas so I decided to try to make:

Blueberry Vanilla Bourbon

Bourbon and vanilla is a heavenly combination!

Again, the blueberries didn’t come through the way I had hoped. BUT, the bourbon infused the blueberries beautifully. She’s lucky she got any blueberries at all on Christmas day. Bourbon Blueberries might be a new favorite food!

NEXT UP:  I am going to get some rum to infuse, but I haven’t decided with what.  One idea I had was to add cloves, Cinnamon, star anise, cardamom and maybe apple.  Another recommendation I saw was to infuse it with tea.  I love Earl Gray, so maybe some Earl Gray Rum.  Also, I’m going to make some vodka for home. Maybe another Bloody Mary mix, but with a little less kick.  Basil? That’s a possibility.  And of course Tequilla is on deck…but not just yet. The price of tequila makes it a little out of reach for experimentation right now.

I’d love to hear about other’s experiments with infusing spirits, especially things I haven’t thought of.

Real v. Fake

27 Dec

My dad took one look at my blog and said “You’re going to offend Catholics.”  He doesn’t know very many vegans I guess.

I had my first hater… A “REAL” vegetarian who took offense to my post on vegetarianism.  Not 24 hours later one of my tweeples was hating on “vegetarian meat” specifically hagis.

I totally respect your ideological purity. That works for you, and it’s really great to have an ideological framework that works for you. I understand that someone who eats pork “when they want to” is not a vegetarian in the sense that their diet includes meat, hence NOT vegetarian.  I also understand that vegetarian hagis is NOT hagis. Hagis is defined as made from organ meat.   You are both right.  But times like these I remember a story…

When I was in college I was a vegan. I went to lunch at the house of my adviser, a Philosophy professor who specialized in Eastern Philosophy.  I had assumed she was a vegetarian, and she confirmed that for many years she had been.   Now she said she occasionally though rarely ate land animals, but pretty regularly ate fish.  I judged. I admit it. I judged her harshly.  She must have seen it in my face because she gently told me the story of visiting a Buddhist monastery in China.  She was there to study Buddhism and was shocked when she sat down to her first meal there to be served beef.  “But how can you take the life of this animal?” she asked.  They gently explained to her that they valued all lives equally. No life was more important than another.  And when they farmed vegetables, every hoe strike of the soil killed several insects.  So a meal of vegetables actually required the probably taking of hundreds of lives.  One cow on the other hand could supply enough sustenance for many meals for many people and they made sure to be thankful to the cow and mindful of its sacrifice for their benefit.

After hearing that story at 20, rather than gaining greater respect for differences, I think I just judged the Buddhists.  However over the years that story has actually stuck with me and been a bench mark for how I see the world.  However, like the Buddhist monk story illustrates, I’ve come to see that ideological purity is often not what we imagine it to be.  Just because a set of actions contradict our expectations doesn’t mean they are “wrong.”   Moreover, many times ideological purity is often used to bludgeon others for not conforming to a value system that has been defined by humans and based on human choices, as opposed to some objective, absolute right or wrong.

I think of the baptist minister who told me at 1o that all Christians would go to heaven but baptists who accepted Jesus Christ as their personal savior and followed the baptist way would sail to heaven in a yacht where as everyone else would go on a dinky raft.  Or Jerry Falwell who insists that attendees at Liberty University believe that the bible is 100% word for word truth. Or the Tea Partiers that insist that the constitution requires gun ownership and no federal regulation of anything.   Mmmm Kay.

I am still spiritually a vegetarian. I still believe in the value system that caused me to strictly follow the vegetarian diet for more than 20 years and to raise my kids as vegetarian.  I spent over 20 years as a vegetarian (with 2 brief periods of lapse) before I started to really accept that I was at a time in my life I needed to broaden my experience and my diet.  You get to an age (aka mid life crisis time) where you realize that life is zipping by and you have not been living every day as intentionally as you could. You’ve hurried days by, wished they would end, tried to move time along, wasted time doing nothing, and seen entire years go by where you just wanted to get from one day to the next.  But our time here is finite.  And when that mid life crisis rolls around one way to handle it is to start living like this is our one chance.  There are some things I’m willing to miss out on.  I’ll probably never get to Moscow. I’ll probably never eat in the under water restaurant in the Maldives. I will never read Moby Dick.  But I CAN try bacon maple chocolate chip cookies, I can try foi gras at one of the best restaurants in the country, and I can try the specialty of the house/region when I go places, like pork bbq in Tennessee, Lobster in Maine, and Crabs in MD.

Life is short. And we only get one go around. I am sorry to the vegetarians I’ve offended, or the Catholics, or the fans of proper punctuation, (just wait til I go on a political rant, I can REALLY offend some Republicans).   If you are looking for ideological purity, or purity of any sort, this is NOT the place for you.

(I have visions of me standing before a crowd with people pointing and yelling “IMPURE! IMPURE!” lol)

So to The real Vegetarian, please Feel free to stick Around And enjoy some Real vegetarian food talk in between the icky meat.  Or you Can not. You are welcome Either way. I appreciate the Opportunity to talk through Some of this Stuff. I was after all A philosophy Major.

Christmas traditions

23 Dec

My parents both grew up rather poor and in another era. So our Christmas traditions were ones we made ourselves in our tiny nuclear family.  My mother was also an anglophile so many of the traditions echoed something out of a Victorian novel.  Christmas food traditions however never stuck (except for cinnamon rolls by the tree) which has in itself become sort of a tradition.  The closest Christmas Dinner food tradition we had was that my mother loved to set food on fire. Not in a bad way mind you. Flambe. Baked Alaska, Hard Sauce for our plum pudding, Duck* a la orange, all set aflame one Christmas or another.

So in my family, our Christmas food tradition (along with the cinnamon rolls) follows my whim**.  Basically, I plan a meal that makes sense to me for Christmas. It’s exciting. It’s strange. It’s traditional (I got vetoed on the Goose this year though). It’s new-to-me.  Something about it screams festive to me that year.  The funny thing is, I can’t really remember what we’ve had in the past. The tradition is more about the conferencing with the family to pick a menu, the planning, the execution, and the enjoyment.  I guess it isn’t a traditional tradition, but if feels right to me.

If anyone actually reads this blog (hahahahahahahahah, I kill me!) I’d love to hear about other people’s Christmas food traditions.  In the meantime, our menu for this year is as follows…

*Somewhere around the middle of my childhood my mother found out that Ducks mated for life. After that she never served just one duck. I’m not kidding. If we had duck, we had two. It didn’t matter that there were only three people in our family, we cooked ducks in pairs.

**Actually we always have mashed potatoes.  Sometimes they are truffled or otherwise embellished, but mashed potatoes always adorn our Christmas table.


(Last night watched Gordon Ramsey’s Christmas traditions and he made a mulled wine with Lemongrass which he served with spiced almonds. I’m trying to figure out where I can work that into my festivities.  Maybe on the 23rd after my father arrives and after we go out to eat at Aladdin’s where my wretched teenage son is a waiter.)

(We had already decided on Beef Wellington before seeing the show, but it was a happy coincidence since he gave me the idea of including Chestnuts in the duxelles. I’m just going to fuse his method w the recipe below.)

Christmas Eve:

Last year we tried to do some version of the feast of the seven (9? 12?) fishes. It didn’t work. Too much trouble with a lot of other hubbub going on.

Lobsters with Vanilla Butter

Risotto of some sort (that will depend on what produce and or cheese selections strike my fancy tomorrow at 6 am when I hit the strip)

Beans and Greens, Italian Style (Escarole, white beans, anchovies)

Heavily Spiked Egg Nog

Christmas lunch


Cheese selection from Penn Mac (impossible to predict)

Cured meats from strip

Caponata made with IPA

Other marinated and cured veg

Gorgonzola Cheesecake

Christmas Dinner

Beef Wellington

Sicilian Brussels Sprouts, with Pancetta, Pine Nuts, and Yellow Raisins

Asparagus w Pecorino Romano, Lemon Zest and Truffle Oil***

Mashed Potatoes/Truffled

Lentil Loaf (for the kids and Vegan guest)

Beet salad

Milk Chocolate Mousse w Whipped Crem Fresh and Port Ganache

***I. Love. Truffles.  I cannot hyperbolize my love for these little fungi.  If I lust after food in general, you do not want to know how I feel about truffles specifically.

Duck Fat? DUCK FAT!

22 Dec

When they claim they sell everything at the Market District Giant Eagle in Robinson (do they claim that?? they should), they aren’t kidding!

I picked this little beauty up for under $6!

What in the hell, you are wondering, does one do with Duck Fat.  I’m glad you asked!

I was at a beer and food tasting at the Market District (thanks to FoodBurgh’s Mike Beattie) where they served us Potatoes with gravy, and the gravy was made with roux made with Duck Fat. (I realize that should not be capitalized, but to me it seems almost obscene to write little d Duck little f Fat– like your grandmother in her undies)  It was wonderful! It was decadent! It was obscenely good gravy, also having beer in it…I’m pausing to drool….

You could also fry potatoes in Duck Fat.  Or confit (pronounced con-fee with just a hint of snooty frenchman in it) something.  I had a brief moment where I was wondering if it would enhance chocolate chip cookies (bacon and bacon fat in them worked wonderfully) but I think that might be an insane idea.  Basically anything you fry would be better done in Duck Fat, especially if it has a solid plain starchy flavor, like bread (croutons!) or potatoes.   I’d love to hear other ideas for using Duck Fat.  (DUCK FAT!!)

I bought two for stocking-stuffers.  I’m not an anomaly in my family.