Archive | January, 2011

Pretty Food

27 Jan


My food is not pretty. I did NOT make this lovely creation. If I tried I’m pretty sure the result would make Martha Stewart cry. And I generally don’t worry about it, because the taste is what I’m really after.

In fact, WHO COOKS LIKE THAT??  Really!  Who is able to get their food to come out looking like that, aside from professional Pastry Chefs.

I’ll tell you:

Alix Levy.  And let me tell you, her desserts are not only lovely, but they TASTE amazing too.

My chef thinks she makes some of the best desserts he’s ever tasted, and he is not overly generous with the food love.  And Alix is not a Pastry Chef, not professionally trained, she is just immensely talented and loves to cook and eat.  That passion comes through in her baking.  Like I said, I generally eschew concern over the look of my food, but I love to look at her creations. I admit it, I objectify her pies.

Here are some more of her creations:

I don’t know what these are, but I’m pretty bummed I didn’t get to try them.


Who even knows what a macaron is?? (click on the above link to find out).  And yet she not only knew and thought to make some but produced these beauties.  These were ri-freakin-diculously delicious. The light, crispy, orange meringue cookies with a dark chocolate ganache inside made my tongue weep. This is exactly what I want in a cookie, and they were spectacular to look at too!

Lattice work crust…Speaks for itself don’t you think?

(In full candor, my mother, who was a good old fashioned country baker could be brought to tears by pie crust. Subsequently, crusts terrify me and any one who can pull off a passable one has my undying respect.)

That is a giant, cream-cheese frosted, pumpkin cake. With Pumpkins on top.

I’m not a big cake fan, but when you throw in cream cheese icing and walnuts on the side, it can’t help but be good!

In fact, I’m not a sweet eater.  I prefer salty, savory food.  I’m the wierdo who orders the cheese course for dessert. But Alix’s goodies never fail to lure me in and capture my heart with their perfect balance of flavors and beautiful presentation.  I cannot wait to see what she brings to my super bowl party!

If you want to taste Alix’s goodies you’ll have to wait for the next On The Spot fundraiser (she usually brings something delicious for our cookie table) or track her down, make her your friend, and wait for her to bake for you.  (She’d probably accept cash and gifts too!)


Women of Steeler Nation, I think we’ve been insulted.

25 Jan

What. The. Effffff?

In case you can’t read that, here it is:

This is from the site on their “Game Day” page. It links to a page I can only surmise is a subset of ALL recipes,  In my world men and women don’t really have gender specific food tastes.  Women worry more about fat, but they like the same foods as men. (I will point out that they might as well just call this the page)  Beyond that though, as this was linked to my search for a recipe for our superbowl party, I’m offended as both a woman and a Steelers fan.

Women of Steeler Nation, what do you think of this??

It makes me feel like they expect us to cook some nachos for our man then retire to the living room to knit while the game is on, only pausing to bring him a brewski or refill his chili bowl.

Um, no.

First off, what is this 1952?

And being that the Steelers are going to the Super Bowl, this seems like a particularly bad time to have up such a ridiculous tab.  Steelers lead the NFL in female fans. (That’s an old link, but I doubt it changed in two years.) Oh SNAP!  This article from 2007 says that the Steelers and Packers lead the NFL in female fans.  Jersey most often purchased by women? You guessed it, our very own #43, Troy Polamalu.


So really, they are risking their core audience for this page right now, women (and men) of Steeler Nation (and those Packers fans too) who are cooking for the big game. Dumb.

And finally, I don’t even know what to say to the sexual innuendo there.  Not that sex and football don’t go together. But to imply either that a.  women’s sole role in football is to cook during the game and sexually satisfy after or b. that women are jealous of their man’s attention to football and should use food like they use sex to distract them from what they want to pay attention to?  Well, as my friend Roxanne would say,  that’s some bull shit right there.

I sent them a little note to express my displeasure. You can do so using their online form or you can email them at

Random bits of food…

25 Jan

Er, that doesn’t sound good.  What I mean is little food reviews and thoughts that don’t make an entire post…

1.  Best meatballs eva.

Chef of the house made meatballs over the weekend.  The twist? He stuffed them with duck fat.  DUCK FAT.  OMG. The result wasn’t a greasy center, but instead the most flavorful meat balls I’ve ever had.  (Ok, admitedly its been a long time since I’ve eaten them regularly. But I’ve had them a few times this past year). Hitting the inside of these bad boys resulted in a full body physical reaction of pleasure.  The first one was so surprisingly delightful I felt it to my toes.  I recommend it highly!

2.  Crack

I’m pretty sure the secret ingredient in Starbucks brewed coffee is crack.  Nothing, not even the coffee I brew from Starbucks coffee or even better beans, quite provides the same satisfaction as Starbucks.  I think its the crack.  No other explanation.

On that note however the brewed coffee at Commonplace Coffee in Squirrel Hill is some of the best coffee I’ve had locally.

3. Beer

As part of my bucket attitude last time I went to the beer distributor I steered away from the cases of beer I KNOW I like and looked for a variety case from an unheard of brewery.  My only two criteria were mixed (that reduces the chance of having an entire case of something I hate) and it needed to be priced $35ish or under.  I finally settled on a case of Tommyknocker, a beer out of Colorado.

The promise of Maple Ale set this case apart.  I wish I took notes because I’m afraid the best I can tell you is that the Maple Ale was a fine dark ale, but unremarkable for the maple. The description on their website in fact says:

“A delicate amount of Maple syrup is added to each barrel of our award winning Maple Nut Brown Ale to impart roasted sweetness.”

Too delicate for my tastes. If you are going to use maple, USE MAPLE.

However the winner of the case was their Alpine Glacier.  Again. Wish I took notes.

What I can tell you is that this Lager has an absolutely lovely floral quality from the hops.  It is amazing.  I love hoppy beer, but this really out did itself.  It has an upfront bitter flavor that lets you know its full of hops but the finish is all sunshine, flowers and unicorn poop.  I really enjoyed this lager and wish they sold cases of just this. I’d buy it for sure, and at $33 a case it is a very reasonable buy.


Anyone who is as addicted to flavored seltzer as I am knows that a glitch at the plant resulted in a 4 week long drought of this stuff.  ZOMG it was all out war at my house for the few bottles we scrounged here and there. I happily threw my kids to the side in epic battles for the only bottle in the house.  Step. Off.

Despite the fact that the Greenfield Giant Eagle has NOT gotten the message, the drought is over and stores are again stocking it.  Phew.


20 Jan

For those of you that don’t live in Pittsburgh, Playoff time is like Christmas. Instead of green and red, the town (including the Terrible Tree) is drenched in black and gold. There are songs too. I heard someone say they were sick of the old “Here We Go” and that the new lyrics didn’t help (though note this version still has Skippy Skeeve…er Jeff Reed in it).  I don’t know, its kind of like “White Christmas.” Sure you’ve heard it 1000 times, but it just wouldn’t be the season without it.   One other thing, and this may be true of other fan bases, I don’t know, but…

Steelers fans are a superstitious lot. Steeler Nation knows it plays a part in every win/loss.

(Steelers fans, leave a comment and tell me about your lucky routine)

Read the description by the blogger formerly known as Pittgirl of her family’s reaction to the start of the last Steelers game for a hysterical example.  (I’ll wait, but please come back, I know she’s awesome so don’t get lost over there.)

<–Superbowl XLII at my house.

So a few days before the playoff game against the ravens last week I get a gchat from my friend Lou saying “What are you doing for the game, I feel like your house is good playoff luck.”

Having watched not just Superbowl XLII but also the playoffs at my house, he decided that we should gather again.  We, like other Steelers fans, are quite superstitious.

  • I have a terrible towel that has been bedazzeled and it’s good luck.  I know this because the year we turned it around and made it to the game prior to the AFC championship, my daughter had bedazzeled the towel the week things turned around.  She only got on a few before I caught her and stopped it, but it apparently was enough.  Once I thought I lost it.  It wasn’t pretty.
  • Agent Ska often comes for games. She informed us after the last game that she had stopped looking at the TV at half time and started staring at the floor.  She’ll be back at my house this weekend, staring at the floor.
  • During XLII (remember, that was a nail biter?) We tried to adjust the mojo a few times.
  • Tony kept his Terrible towel on his head the whole time.
  • I found that standing near the door to the kitchen was a good spot for me.
  • My son (correctly) refused to put on any black and gold because he hadn’t worn any the whole season.
  • At one point we started the Terrible Triangle, or something like that:

We hoped to harness some ancient aztec mojo or something I guess.

It didn’t work.  Which we clearly forgot because we tried it again:

It didn’t work this time either.

We will be gathering at my house this Sunday as well.  But I’m not going to talk about why. Or make predictions. Because I am superstitious that way. All I’ll say is I’m nervous, excited, thrilled, nauseous, anxious, and all sorts of hyped up this week.

But I do love playoff weeks in Pittsburgh. There is nothing like the fervor of this city during playoffs. I’ve been listening to sports radio in the car. Planning my black and gold wearing strategy. Thinking about playoff food. And trying not to vomit.

Here are two more great musical tributes to the black and gold!  The first by my friend the beautiful and talented Kelly Maize. And the second is a tribute to the fantastic Mike Wallace to the toon of Black and Yellow (double win!).  One local blog is having a contest to pic the fan favorite or you can go over to WTAE and see a growing list of fan songs.

You wish this was your lunch

20 Jan

I have a client in the Strip District again, Hallelujah!  That means every few weeks when we meet at their office I can raid the strip for goodies and lunch.  I avoid the parking hassles of the weekend and the guilt of stepping out in the middle of a work day–because even though I work for myself I feel guilty if I am not chained to my desk or at a work event 9-5.

My new(ish) favorite Strip District lunch, that I crave, dream about, lust after comes from the S&D Polish Deli at 2204 Penn Avenue.

You’d never know when you walk in that they have hot lunches (I mean aside from the sign!).  A deli counter full of cured meats and two isles of Polish Grocery product dominate the space. But just past the freezer promising a wicked variety of Pierogis is a little window that dishes out the most luscious polish delicacies in. the. world. (or at least in Pittsburgh.) (I mean aside from someone’s Polish grandma).

I come from peasant stock.  We love our potatoes.  In fact we love all our carbs and hearty peasant food.  Cabbage, beets, cured meats made from the leftover parts.  This place is my Nirvana.

In the past I have gotten their pierogis.  Luscious little pillows of tender dough, filled with silky mashed potatoes and cheese and served with enough butter to float a battle ship.  Orgasmic. I think I fainted the first time I bit into one.  They run around $4 (ish) for 4 or you can buy them fresh or frozen and cook them at home.  Oh look, they have a website! It tells me they are $6.50 a dozen and that they come in a dizzying array of flavors, including desert flavors like blueberry.

But even better than the Pierogis (I KNOW!) is their Polish Style Halushki.  I was expecting noodles and cabbage, a combination which warms my peasant heart.  What I got though was this!  It’s noodles with bacon and farmers cheese. I’m going to pause and have a Homer Simpson Drool moment….

….Ok.  The farmers cheese, though it resembles cottage cheese, is a dryer (think crumbled feta but softer) that offers more tang than salt. The bacon brings the salt and the obligatory battleship floating butter rounds it out to make this food of dreams.  At $4.50 a plate, it’s a bargain.

The last time I went I tried their farmers cheese stuffed crepes for a change. I expected something like a blintz but the farmers cheese is richer and has a bite to it. It reminded me a bit of sweetened creme cheese.  They were delicious, though I think they’d be even better with a little fruit.

All in all I’d strongly recommend finding your way here for lunch some day.  Definitely take home some of their pierogis and other tastey treats, but for heaven’s sake make sure you try their lunch. I want to branch out and try some of their other offerings (they have Borsht!!!!!!) but every time I open my mouth to order, Polish Style Halushki bullies its way past all the other words and I and up with the same thing.  But you don’t hear me complaining!

Bacon Bourbon

18 Jan

Bacon Bourbon. As soon as the words dripped from my fingers to my keyboard I knew I had to try it. So I checked with teh google and found several possible methods but settled on the one mentioned in this post.

I am a recent convert to bourbon and not really qualified to judge quality.  I had to go by price and went with a mid range bottle of Wild Turkey.  I thought about getting some really good bacon, but I decided since I was using just the grease, regular Giant Eagle Bacon would do.

First, fry up your bacon and collect the grease.  The suggested amount was 6 oz, but  I simply fried up a pound of bacon in a pan and let the grease build up (by the end making bacon fried bacon as one reader put it!) We strained the grease through a coffee filter so none of the solids went into our bourbon to steep.

In order to get enough bacon grease in with the bourbon we poured it out of the bottle and used a mason jar for the infusing process.

Shaken, not stirred.

After pouring it all together we shook the concoction and let it seep. The instructions suggested 6 hours of infusing, but we began infusing about 7 pm on Friday and let the jar sit until game time on Saturday, nearly 20 hours.  One problem was that the bacon grease solidified pretty quickly. I kept the jar near a heater over night, but our house was just too cold and drafty to keep the grease liquid. Saturday morning I ran the jar under hot water to melt the bacon fat and then left the jar in a hot water bath all day, periodically shaking it, in an attempt to get the flavors mixed up.

In my excitement to get the bourbon good and bacony I left the jar in the warm water bath until about 3:30, at which point I panicked about not having it ready by game time and buried it in the snow to cool it quickly and harden the fat.  It eventually solidified again, but in my continued enthusiasm for the project, mixed with Steeler playoff game jitters, I brought it in to strain a little early.  I spooned out most of the grease then strained the bourbon through a sieve, but I should have double strained it and used a coffee filter for the whole process. (Actually Chef Rob got impatient too and pulled out the coffee filter when most of the grease was out but the bourbon was still moving too slowly and play of game was resuming…)

The result, as you can perhaps see, is that there was bacon fat still in the bourbon.  This should be fixable, but definitely not for fussing with during a playoff game.

Taste Testers:

First Responses:

Tony:  “I guess I can kind of taste a bit of smoke.”

Lou:  “It taste like bourbon, only not as good.”

Desiree:  “Eh. What they said.”

Me:  “I guess I detect the shadow of bacon, but it really isn’t very strong is it,” sadface.

Not the “wow this is amazing, you are brilliant Jen” response I had been hoping for.

However during half time in an attempt to turn around some bad game juju we did shots and the responses were different.  That time the bacon was more assertive.  The shots started out primarily bourbon, but the finish was definitely bacon.  I really enjoyed it and Tony was intrigued. But this really ruined the Bourbon for Lou and Desiree.  Part of the difference may have been that the bacon fat which was still in the bourbon had more time to harden and so it was a very different mouth feel and taste. There was definitely a bit of visible fat (ew), though I’m not sure it was as gross as it sounds. That may have been what made the difference in taste that I liked and that grossed out some of the revelers.

I will have to re-strain it and try it again.  But for now my review is mixed. It was a very interesting experiment, and if you have the resources to try it, it was a lot of fun. But if you have limited resources I’m not sure I’d commit an entire bottle of bourbon to it.  I’d also like to try infusing it with actual bacon as opposed to fat and see what that does.  Finally, I’d like to try mixing the finished product rather than serving it strait and see if that helps balance the flavors and bring out the good qualities of the bacon.  I’m not ready to declare failure yet, but neither was it the resounding success I was hoping for.  Also, no more experimenting during playoff games; unless it is determined to be good luck, and then I’ll be Madam Effing Curie in the Kitchen come game time.

Fast, easy and delicious weeknight dinner idea

13 Jan

I’ve been meaning to make pierogi pizza FOREVER, but even after buying the ingredients  more than once, I still haven’t done it.  Its so hard coming home from work to kids, dogs, endless evening activities and finding the motivation to actually cook something for dinner, let alone to cook something innovative. Every night I face the endlessly annoying question “what the HELL am I going to make for dinner tonight??”  It has to satisfy a fussy meat eating chef who thinks every meal has to involve meat or it isn’t a meal.  A teenager who wont be there for dinner but will wonder grumpily why we didn’t save him any/cook something he would eat/what is there to eat the second he walks through the door. A 11 year old with sophisticated tastes for a 11 year old but who still has childish aversions to things like red peppers and tomatoes (and yet loves brussel sprouts–go figure!) and me, a middle aged slightly over weight foodie with high blood pressure.  I repeat, WHAT THE HELL AM I GOING TO MAKE FOR DINNER????

Add to this my motherly guilt that I’m not providing fresh, home made food for my kids and it is my daily nightmare.  We have a handful of meals that work really well (like Mexican food) but they tend to be labor intensive, and even we can’t eat tacos and enchiladas every day.

So I was thrilled to find a new idea in my first issue of Food and Wine which I just started getting.

First of all, SQUEEEEEEEEE!  I want to make EVERY RECIPE in it. Except for the ones with Chicken…I hate chicken.  But I started with something simple, a fast weeknight meal that was a spin on pizza. I can’t remember what they called it but in a nutshell it involved:

  • store bought pizza crust
  • store bought mashed sweet potatoes
  • balsamic caramelized onions
  • mozzarella cheese
  • Sopressata, cut in ribbons

I didn’t have any Sopressata but I did have some cured Italian meats I bought at Penn Mac for Christmas–something akin to pepperoni but a littler tarter, harder, and spicier (not to mention more expensive!)

I tossed some bobali crusts into my cart at the Waterfront Iggle, but when I got around to the dairy isle I found they had two giant Sicilian crusts for less than one bobali.  Sold!  I knew that my family would probably want to all take control of their own pizzas and this was more than enough for four full size pizzas made to individual specifications.

For the vegetarian option, I added blue cheese and walnuts.*

Both were absolutely fantastic and I think the thick crust worked quite well.  The pre-made sweet potatoes were seasoned with cinnamon and cloves and possibly sweetened.  I can imagine using these instead of sauce could be cloying but two things made it work.  One was the thickness of the crust. It really held up against the heavy (literally) mashed potatoes, but also provided a muted palate for the sweetness to play off of.  The second, and critical element was the presence of a balancing taste. The tart/sour flavor and the fatty mouth feel of the cured meat helped round out the flavor on the one pizza, and the salty tang of the blue cheese and the crunch of the walnuts (not to mention the fat content) really went well with both the taste and texture of the crust/mashed sweet potatoes on the veg.

(I wish I could link to the recipe for you but it doesn’t appear to be on the Food and Wine site yet.)

While the ease of grabbing some premade mashed sweet potatoes is hard to beat for me, I’m tempted to make my own to play with the flavoring.  I think you could do a lot there. Some alternative ideas for flavoring I had:

  • Indian spices
  • barbecue flavoring
  • Tex-Mex
  • spicy hot


*Please excuse the bite out of the veggie pizza…really it’s a miracle there are pictures at all.  I haven’t gotten the hang of this photograph your food thing quiet yet, and stopping the hungry hoards on the way to dinner is nearly impossible.