Monthly Archives: May 2011

Good Morning, Summertime!


On a recent episode of the podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour, the foursome discussed the start of summer, specifically: What things, whether they be booklists, food items, or the start of blockbuster movie season, get you excited for summertime?

It got me thinking about the foods that inherently mean summer to me. As one of the commentators on the podcast mentioned, being an adult can sometimes ruin the seasonal aspect of treats enjoyed as a child. I don’t have to wait till the summer reappearance of the ice cream truck to get my ice cream sandwich fix. Hell, I could have one right now, if I wanted. (Well, I’d have to go down to the corner store, but you get what I’m saying.)

Feeding yourself as a grown up means overruling a lot of your worst impulses. It’s tempting, especially when my schedule gets chaotic, to eat cereal for dinner every night. Nourishing? No. But it’s easy to make, easy to consume, doesn’t dirty a whole of pots, pans, and dishes, and what’s more, I like cereal. But no, as an adult, I have to recognize that it’s not okay just to eat cereal for dinner every night. Nor is it okay to have an ice cream sandwich for breakfast every morning. (Seriously, though, as I write this at 7:30 am, that’s starting to sound more and more appealing.)

So… we pick and choose. We compromise. We get our vegetables in but eat cookies when we want to. Or we deny ourselves until specified times to indulge. But seasonal restrictions don’t really come into play. We might not eat ice cream sandwiches every day, but it’s not because it’s not summertime. It’s because we’re trying to make the better choice.

What about other stereotypical summer foods? Well, as soon as my friends started getting settled, they started buying grills, which meant that grilling also became less a summertime occupation and more of a “as long as the weather is decent” option.

Stuff that is generally only available in abundance on seasonal terms, like fruit, is still fairly restricted to specified seasons. You won’t find me eating much strawberries in the winter, but in the summertime, it’s rare to have less than a pound in my fridge. I generally eat more fruit in the summertime because the season yields some of my favorite crops. And right toward the end of August, when apple season is just getting started, I tend to eat more fruit than anything else.

But really, if there is a single item that most reminds me of summer, most makes me feel the oncoming summer season, it’s got to be lemonade. Despite how much I drink it in the summertime, I never find myself desiring it outside the months of May-August, but during the warmest months, I am in constant craving for the stuff. Cold, crisp, tart, refreshing, lemonade is my summertime drink. That first sip, sometime mid-May, always makes me feel like the summer is just moments away. That first sip reminds me of all the lukewarm, watered-down lemonade that I drank as a kid, at daycare or summer camp or served by well-meaning friends’ moms. It reminds me of infinite stretches of open days and nothing much to do but try to fill in the long gaps of time with stuff to do. It reminds me of the transition between the novelty adoration of the warm weather and then, usually around late July, getting really worn out on the heat and just wishing it would stop.

So my meandering has brought me to a general question: What foods do you still consider “summertime” foods? What food item most brings out a childlike summertime excitement?

Food Bloggers Meetup at Paris 66

Though I have dabbled in numerous forms of writing, I have really fallen in love with blogging. Some of this is the nature of the form – I’m an instant gratification junkie, so the quick efficiency of writing and posting blog entries holds great appeal – but what has really gotten me falling head over heels is the blogging community. Among a terrain not exactly known for its restrained, distinguished discourse, specific blogging communities remain calm, welcoming places of exchange ideas and opinions, experiences and photographs.

I have been accused of being a bit of a social curmudgeon because I’m not on sites like Facebook or Twitter. While I admit to some moderate prejudice against social networking sites, the real reason I’m not on any of them at the moment is that my time online is already maxed out. On a daily basis I’ve got a few dozen links to check on, and were I to sacrifice some of the time I dedicate to those sites for say, “poking” friends-of-friends or harvesting wheat in my virtual farm, I would be losing a significant percentage of time that I use to keep up my preferred social networking: Reading other people’s blogs.

Until recently, reading and commenting on other blogs was about as far as I had gotten into actual socialization with food bloggers. I learned how much of a shame this truly was when I finally made it to a Food Bloggers Meetup, this time at Paris 66 in East Liberty.

When you write about food, you want to talk about food. You want to talk about it a lot. And while I am lucky to have friends that are more than willing to humor my seemingly endless interest in the topic, there’s something very reassuring about being among members of the same tribe. When the food is served and my camera was only one of many pulled out, I got a warm and fuzzy feeling in my stomach – and not just because I had drunk half of my very potent French martini.

In attendance:
- Mike of Foodburgh
- Luke (organizer and former Paris 66 employee)
- Lauren of Burghilicious
- Erin (and Kevin) of Community Cucina
- Clara of Food Collage
- Roddy of Rodzilla Reviews
- Janelle of VegOut Pittsburgh
- Nicole (and her lovely spouse) of Yum Yum
- Laurie of Tuesdays with Dorie
- Me and the lovely Kait Wittig, friend and eating partner-in-crime


In addition to meeting these bloggers in person for the first time, I was also making my first visit to Paris 66. I’m a bit of a sucker for romantic little enclaves of atmosphere and expensive dining, and Paris 66 has all the best traps: Softly lit, furnished in polished wood and tables complete with laminated-antique postcard covers,  back patio seating, and, of course, a small, concise menu of French specialties, including crepes, steak frites, duck, and some very foreign- and tempting- sounding hors d’œuvres. Billed as “everyday French cuisine” the menu still finds plenty of room for the mildly exotic.

Paris 66 on Urbanspoon
Continue reading

Tofu Meuniere


I spent most of the week sick with a pretty wicked cold which wiped out every bit of my appetite from Monday through most of Saturday. I ate to keep up my strength, but I lacked my characteristic zest for the meals I was eating. Even my standby favorites like Piaquadilo’s Cajun corn chowder and the vegan buffalo seitan wings from Spak Bros. did little to inflame my senses. I was congested, my throat was sore, and the idea of eating food, let alone preparing it, seemed like a chore.

This past week, while I was sleeping and moaning and spending as little time in the kitchen as possible, Nicole of Yum Yum posted her preparation of a Giada De Laurentiis recipe, Chicken Meuniere with Tomato-Parsley Sauce. I could tell I was finally coming out of the fog when, upon reading Nicole’s entry, I thought to myself, “Well that looks delicious. And I bet it would be totally easy to veganize.”

So Saturday, when the urge to cook started to creep back into my brain, I looked over the original recipe. The term “meuniere” refers to the process of dredging the fish, chicken, or whatever protein you’re using in flour before baking or frying. It’s a classic rustic Italian dish that is easy and quick to prepare, and for as few ingredients as it calls for, it’s an incredibly flavorful dish.

Based on the contents of my cupboards and personal preferences, I made a few variations, including substituting basil when I could not seem to locate my large canister of parsley. Also, because I like a thick sauce, I added some of the dredging flour to the roux. If you want a lighter, less creamy sauce, just skip that step.

Don’t forget some good crusty bread and a fresh green salad to go along with this dish. It’s a very refreshing dinner for a warm spring or summer night.

Tofu Meuniere

Ingredients

For tofu
- 1 pound tofu, cut into eight even slices
- 1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp poultry seasoning
- 1 tsp garlic pepper seasoning
- Oil for frying

For sauce
- 4 to 5 Roma tomatoes, diced
- 1/3 Kalamata olives, chopped
- 2 shallots, sliced thin
- Zest of a small lemon
- 1/2 cup white wine
- 1 tbsp basil

- To prepare the tofu: Mix together flour and seasonings. Dredge each piece of tofu in the flour mixture until both sides are well-coated. Heat oil in a large pan, then add the tofu slices. Fry until lightly browned, then flip. Once all slices are cooked on both sides, remove them from the pan and keep in a lidded container.

- For the sauce: Using the same pan, add the tomatoes, olives, shallots, zest, white wine, and basil. Simmer for five minutes. If thickening, add a tablespoon of the flour mixture used to coat the tofu. Stir and cook until thick (but not too thick), then remove from heat.

- Plate the tofu, then cover with the sauce.

Notes on a New Place: Le Brew House


Le Brew House on Urbanspoon

I’m not sure at what point in Le Brew House’s existence me and my mother happened to chance upon it one rainy Friday night. We had intended on going to Emiliano’s across the street, found it too noisy and crowded for our tastes, checked into one of our favorites Caffe Davio, only to be turned away because of a large party coming in, and what happened to be next to Davio but a big, bright, empty, yet very open new restaurant.

Le Brew House was so new, it had only just gotten its liquor license. Our hostess seemed relieved that the news that they were licensed to sell, but empty of anything to sell did not turn us away. We’re pretty easy to please, admittedly. At that point, we were just happy to get in out of the rain.


At this point in the post, I will be straightforward: If I was going to give this place a regular review, comparable to the reviews I give more established restaurants, I’d probably be saying largely negative things. This, however, is not what you do with a new restaurant. There were many positives to be found in the early stages of Le Brew House. The friendly staff and bright decor, the clean layout that nonetheless made a fairly empty restaurant still seem populated. The lovely and simple strings of lights hanging from one lofted  I even liked the one-sheet menu, as limited options tend to imply a certain amount of quality to what is featured.


It’s the little wrong notes that show you a restaurant is still growing. A one page, two-sided menu is just fine. But one as plainly laid out and cheaply laminated as this is obviously the product of a place rushing to get things together before the doors are opened. Chances are, a few months from now those tacky plastic menus will be a thing long forgotten.


Then there are the little things a new restaurant does right. A bar food staple, like fried zucchini, done in fairly classic style, but with all the right flavors. Not too greasy, not too heavy, with the definite presence of zucchini underneath a fine crispy layer of breading. It had a crunch where many of its contemporaries offer only a soggy bite.


My mother ordered a burger with fried shoestring onions and mushrooms, smothered by a thick layer of provolone cheese. We were both pleasantly surprised by the tenderness of the homemade beef patty. It was medium well, with just a light tint of pink to the inside, and very juicy. The shoestring onions also acquitted themselves well, lending the mild provolone a necessary bite. The one disappointment were the mushrooms, which seemed to all but disappear among more dominant flavors. While the tanginess of the onion could not be denied even underneath a thick coating of cheese, the mushrooms would have been better served on top of the concoction.


I was hungry for greens, and the three salad options Le Brew House was offering sounded decent enough. I opted for another bar and grill regular feature, the crispy chicken salad. This one left off the French fries and featured a nice bed of crispy mixed greens. The veggies on the salad were fresh and abundant, and I especially liked the use of complete rounds of green bell pepper. It lacked the croutons promised on the menu, but I don’t think it was much of a loss, especially since the crispy chicken breading was already providing a salty counterpoint.

The crispy chicken proved to be the only problem with the salad. While you get a nice sized fillet of breaded chicken, it’s so thin that the breading eclipses any of the white meat within. If you’re going to get meat on a salad, it’s got to be more than just an excuse to have something fried on top of your vegetables. Mixing a protein into the dish can be delicious and actually very healthy. When the chicken is served like this, I can’t help but wonder if the salad would be better with more vegetables in place of the fillet.

Le Brew House is one of those rare independent restaurants attempting to capitalize on all the major eating hours of the day, serving breakfast until 2 pm, then lunch and dinner till 10 pm. In addition to the expansive hours, the restaurant also promises to have a wide range of beer and alcohol for sale, another great feature which is sure to attract South Side residents and roving visitors alike.

Overall, I think it’s got a lot of promise. That spot’s not the easiest real estate. It will be surrounded by several restaurants that already have themselves well established niches. Caffe Davio, just next door, even serves breakfast. If Le Brew House suffers from any immediate faults, it’s a lack of a specific quality that makes the place memorable. The environment was attractive and the staff really were very nice, but the food was just okay and the minimal menu held little curiosity or intriguing factors.

But it says something about the right notes a new restaurant hits that I am looking forward to where Le Brew House might go from here. While South Side has no deficit of dining establishments, a new eatery at that end of East Carson is always a welcome addition to what can quickly become a well trod culinary ground. I hope that Lew Brew House makes the most of its first few months and uses the novelty of its opening as a motivating factor to really standout from its neighbors and build its own distinctive reputation.

Chicago: Day Three

In which reach heaven via homemade tostadas... and then we go home.

Our third day in Chicago was really more of a half day, since we had to drive home in the afternoon. Despite having a whole lot left on our respective to-do lists, we couldn’t shake ourselves out of bed early enough to get in anything besides a decent breakfast. We hopped a train and a bus over to our final eating destination, Handlebar.

I may not be a bicyclist, but I seem to be endlessly fond of their dining establishments. Handlebar shares a lot in common with OTB Bicycle Cafe in South Side, a place I used to frequent when working in the South Side Works a few years ago. The focus of both bars is squarely on the cycling lifestyle, whether it be for intensive sport or for everyday getting around town. Unlike OTB’s biking-themed menu, however, the Handlebar leaves the theme to the decor and general philosophy of the establishment.

Both are exceeding vegetarian and vegan friendly, however, something that appealed to James, especially when Anna Sophia gave us a sterling recommendation of the place.

“Huevos Diablos,” she told us. I took it very, very seriously.

Handlebar on Urbanspoon
Continue reading

Good Morning, Rabanada!


I’ve tried many of Isa Chandra Moskowitz’s cookbooks, but in the short amount of time I’ve owned Vegan Brunch, I’ve utilized it more than the nearly six months I’ve owned Veganomicon or the many years I’ve turned to Vegan with a Vengeance. Aside from the Sarah Kramer cookbooks, which I have turned to on a regular basis since 2008, Vegan Brunch has been the most prolific presence in my kitchen since I purchased it in early April.

Part of the reason is that it has a perfect blend of savory and sweet foods that work well for any meal. But the biggest reason by far is the simple fact that the recipes are damn good. They’re inventive but casual, not requiring a vast array of ingredients or a large prep time. There are some more advanced recipes, but for the most part, these are dishes that are easily prepared in an hour or less and that serve a whole host of functions, be it a lazy Sunday afternoon brunch with my partner or a potluck or even, on the rare occasion where I actually make something special for myself, a solo treat.

Because of my particular affection for pancakes and French toast, I’m always on the lookout for good vegan variations of these dishes. [Of course, the definitive list of pancake options appears in the fantastic Eat Me, a collection of recipes and general retrospective of Shopsins in New York, which features tremendous feats of pancakery such as the macaroni and cheese pancake. But more on Shopsins another time.] Browsing through the options in Vegan Brunch, one recipe caught my eye.

In Brazil, rabanadas is prepared to celebrate the birth of a child, as well Christmas, Easter, etc. The tradition of preparing rabanadas is so ingrained in the culture, bakeries sell special loaves around holiday time, called “Pao de Rabanada.” The prep includes soaking the bread in milk or water to soften, then dipping the slices into egg and frying in a small amount of oil. So, yeah, not much different from how French toast is prepared stateside.

Vegan Brunch‘s recipe offers a few very innovative (and tasty) vegan changes. Instead of egg, the stale bread slices are soaked for twenty minutes in a banana-almond milk custard. I made a few slight changes to the recipe, but basically prepared it as specified in the book. So, thanks in advance, to Isa Chandra Moskowitz, and this great recipe that made me and my partner pretty darn happy this past Sunday afternoon.

Brazilian Rabanadas

Ingredients
- 1 stale loaf of bread (she specifies baguette, but I used a stale Italian loaf and it worked fine)
- 2 ripe bananas
- 1 1/2 cup almond milk
- 3/4 tbsp Xanathan gum
- 1/2 tsp almond extract
- Vegetable oil for frying
- 1 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- Strawberries (or other fruit) for garnish

- Slice stale loaf into eight thick slices. Lay out slices on a flat baking pan.
- In a food processor or blender, combine the bananas, almond milk, Xanathan gum, and extract. Process until mixture is smooth, then pour mixture over the slices. Allow to soak for ten minutes, then flip slices and let sit for ten minutes more.
- Once slices have soaked for twenty minutes, heat oil on a pan and prepare as normal, keeping the cooked slices in a warm stove or microwave until all are finished.
- Combine the cocoa powder and cinnamon in a sifter, if you have one, or if you’re like me, use a small measuring cup and hope for a steady hand. Lay out finished slices on plates and dust with the cocoa/cinnamon mixture. Top with berries and add syrup and vegan margarine.

Friday Happy Hour: Talk about a full plate…

Who needs a drink?

It’s been a quiet week on Forked!, and for that, I can only blame my increasingly chaotic work life. Also, while I am learning immense organizational abilities from my current job, I seem to be devolving in my personal writerly responsibilities, letting myself off the hook for days at a time, ignoring my computer in favor of a podcast, a bowl of noodles, and a nap.

My sincere apologies for this wasteful behavior. I promise that next week will be an abundance of riches… if you consider blog posts “riches,” which if you’re reading this (and especially if you’re a fellow blogger), you might.

Anyway, this week was nothing close to a total loss in food experiences. Things from the week that will most likely be brought up in blog posts in the coming week:

- Last Friday, I tried a new restaurant in South Side. Le Brew House was so new, in fact, that it had only just gotten its liquor license, meaning that though they were legally allowed to sell the alcohol, they had nothing in stock. I’ve got more notes on that visit…

- I finally got to a Food Bloggers Meetup, and I can only shake my head in shameful remorse for all the previous meet ups I have missed. It was such a joy to finally meet many of the writers that I read on a daily basis, like Nicole from Yum Yum, Clara from Food Collage, Mike from FoodBurgh, and Lauren from Burghilicious, as well as some writers whose blogs I have not had the fortune to read before, like Erin of the adorable Community Cucina. Oh, and there was eating too, quite a bit of it, at the very pleasant Paris 66 in East Liberty. Much much more to say on that trip…

- Me and my partner, James, signed up for a CSA. Woo! We’re doing a five month CSA with Garfield Community Farms. I’m also determined to start doing some volunteering with them on their Thursday Community Work Nights. I eat enough veggies, I really should start getting involved in producing them as well.

- Chicago: Day Three is on the way.

- One more important item before I skedaddle to finish my laundry: Steve Albini has a food blog.

Who is Steve Albini? More importantly, who knew that Steve Albini was something of a foodie? Forks up to you, Mr. Albini. I dedicate my next tasty concoction to you and your bulger peanut kimchee spring rolls.

Wonder if he would do a cookie exchange with me…

Burgatory Bar


One day we look back at the Burger Bar Wars of 2010-2011 and think, “Really, why did we get so excited?” Granted, I have only been to two of the combatants in this fight, but they’re arguably the champions thus far: Brgr and, now, Burgatory Bar. In regards to a comparison between the two restaurants and the burger trend in general, I have two things to admit:

1) Honestly, I’d love to come down on one side or the other, but Brgr and Burgatory are about even when it comes to overall experience. Both have definite advantages on their competition, but when you tally up the highs and lows… it’s a draw.

2) How to put this… I don’t get the burger trend. I get having burgers. I get having places that specialize in burgers. I understand the appeal of having a focus that takes a very specific, beloved food item and experiments with it or classes it up. But why are people going so apeshit about these places? A good burger is not hard to find in any place whose culinary landscape is at least defined enough to have two or three quality diners (and that category basically includes every inhabited area of the USA). An inventive, classy burger isn’t even that difficult to find. But because these places are putting the burger out front, in the spotlight, and making a grand display of how creative they can be with this institution, suddenly we’re all about burgers.

Eateries specializing in a very specific food item are often right ahead or right in line with trends. Think cupcake bakeries, or donuts, or crepes. Maybe the burger thing confuses me because there have always been places that specialize in burgers – namely, most establishments that have mainstream American/diner food – and this trend is just attempting to create a classy culture around something that at its best is classless.


Burgatory Bar on Urbanspoon

Continue reading

Saturday Morning Sweet Treats from Colangelo’s


One of the best things about talking food with other food enthusiasts (apologies for using that term in overabundance, I just hate the term “foodie”) is the resulting recommendations that come from discussing where you love to eat. There’s a look in the eyes – a widening, a sparkle – that tells you all you need to know.

I get that look about many, many things that I have eaten. After Chicago, I couldn’t talk about the food at Chicago Diner without getting a little misty eyed. I speak in similar ways about the taco stand at Las Palmas, the Shakshuka at Sababa Middle Eastern Grill, the buffalo seitan wings at Spak Brothers.

Sylvia, from Burgh Bits and Bites, had that look when she talked about the meles at Colangelo’s. The question, “Ooh, what’s a mele?” nearly sent her teetering off her chair. Meles, apparently, are one of the most delicious pastries invented by man, and Colangelo’s offers some of the best.

“You must try it.”

I take recommendations fairly seriously, and when it’s a real rave review, I make a point of adding the place or item onto my mental list of things to try. So, on a short trip through the Strip on Saturday, I happened by Colangelo’s and decided to make good on her recommendation and my curiosity.

Sylvia, if you’re reading this: HOLY CRAP! WHAT HAVE I BEEN DOING ALL THESE YEARS WITHOUT THESE MELES IN MY LIFE?

I ordered an apricot mele, and hoo boy… I’ve never had a pastry where the least impressive thing about it was the filling. And the apricot filling was very good, just not as spectacular as the pastry. Lightly sugared to give it a sweet crunch, it was still chewy and soft in all the right ways. Despite all the sugar, it wasn’t overpoweringly sweet, like a cheap danish or pastry. It had the slightest essence of vanilla that blended smoothly into the burst of citrus flavor from the apricot preserves.

About the size of my (admittedly small) hand, it was almost too much for me to handle alone. I split it in two and shared with my friend, Mo, whose reaction matched my own. How have we not tried this before? All the time I’ve spent in the Strip District and I never once tried this amazing little treat?


I meant to buy two meles, but the clerk misheard me. Flustered by the noise and crowd building around the counter, but still determined to get two pastries, I asked for something a bit more familiar to me: Sfogiatelle.

The Italian name means “many leaves” or “many layers” so it’s easy to understand how the treat got its name. The shell shaped pastry is comprised of flaky pastry layered one on top of the next. The inside is a slightly creamy, almost cheesy filling, but it’s so subtly worked into the pastry, you barely notice it until after the bite.

Because Colangelo’s was a bit crowded, I took my treats to my favorite eating spot: The walkway outside of the Pittsburgh Public Market. There I enjoyed my pastries, the first cup of coffee of my day, and a nearly perfect sunny Saturday morning.

Colangelo's Bakery on Urbanspoon

Chicago: Day Two

The sky was blue, the sun was out, so we headed for the lake...

Saturday was so beautiful, the drinking I had done at Gallery Cabaret the night before could not keep me in bed. I wanted to walk in the sunshine, see a bit of the neighborhood, get a cup of coffee, and maybe grab a dose of greasy Mexican diner food.

Sadly, the only Mexican restaurant that fit the bill didn’t seem to be open at the time. A stroll down a few blocks back toward my hostel brought me another quick breakfast option.

Austrian Bakery and Deli on Urbanspoon

I have been in other businesses, mostly bakeries, that have a specific cultural cuisine focus, but they’re usually spare, family owned places with white walls and floors, spare shelves, and a strange sense of permanent temporariness. Austrian Bakery was warm and welcoming, filled with what seemed to be a good mix of locals and both stateside and international travelers. The small seating area was completely cramped with people, with just a little open seating at the counter in the window. My walk, however, had gone on a little too long and I wanted to get back to the hostel to rouse my partner from his slumber, so I ordered a coffee and cheese pocket pastry to go.


My mouth is watering just for the thought of it. The sweet pastry gave way to a surprisingly mild cheese filling that perfectly coated the inside layers. It was present in every bite, but not overwhelming and not too sweet. The only minor detractor was the abundant powdered sugar, which didn’t add anything necessary to the pastry and made it messier than it could have been.

But, like I said, that was a minor complaint. I gobbled the pastry down minutes after bringing it back to the hostel. For as leisurely as our trip was, I probably should have taken more time to savor its deliciousness.

Because Friday’s weather had been so crappy, we had stayed fairly close to Lincoln Park. Saturday’s gorgeous weather afforded us the conditions to stray a bit farther into the city. We took advantage of our three-day CTA passes and hopped on a train to Chinatown.


Continue reading