Tag Archives: food

Good Morning, Orange Chocolate Chip Coffee Cake!

Image

I’m gonna keep this brief (for me).

Some Saturdays, you wake up and just want to laze about. You don’t want to put on pants. You don’t want to shower. You don’t want to cook, and you barely have the patience or energy to make a pot of coffee. All that you want to do – and in this scenario, you have the same cultural tastes as I do – is sit around in your pajamas, eat a slice of leftover pizza, drink that coffee you just barely mustered the strength to make, and stream The Hunger Games on Netflix. Needless to say, you’re not likely to cook anything. You’re not really likely to contribute anything to the betterment of your world. That’s okay. That’s for Sunday.

Then, there are Saturdays when you wake up and the world is your oyster, an oyster that you’re prepared to go out, catch, bring home, wash, prepare, and eat. You leap out of bed, get into your workout clothes, run a few miles, make some coffee, cook breakfast, clean the house, do your laundry, go shopping, meet up with your friends for some frozen yogurt, put in some volunteer hours, bake a cake, make a few dinner courses, host a potluck dinner party, and spend the waining hours of your day sipping wine and chatting with your guests.

Okay, so I’ve never really had one of those latter Saturdays. But for weekend days that you’re feeling a tad more productive than the former kind of Saturday mentioned, this coffee cake is for you.

I adapted a recipe from one of my favorite go-to sources for breakfast and brunch foods, Vegan Brunch by Isa Chandra Moskowitz. I was worried that the orange and coffee flavors of the loaf would contradict, but the key is to limit the amount of each so as to achieve a flavor balance. Plus, chocolate!

This is an incredibly simple coffee cake to make, so feel free to give it a try even on those mornings where you really can’t be bothered to change into real person clothes.

Ingredients
– 1 cup non-dairy milk
– 1 tablespoon instant coffee crystals
-1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
– 2 cups all purpose flour (or 1 cup all purpose, 1 cup whole grain for a healthier option)
– 1/2 cup sugar
– 1 tablespoon baking powder
– 1/2 tsp salt
– 1/2 cup canola oil
– 1/2 tsp orange extract
– 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
– 1/2 cup chocolate chips

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease a loaf pan OR 9X9 pie dish.

In a 1/2 cup of the milk, dissolve the coffee crystals. Stir in the rest of the milk and vinegar and set aside.

Stir together flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Add the milk mixture, oil, vanilla and orange extracts. Mix together until batter is just moistened, then fold in chocolate chips.

Pour batter into loaf pan or dish and bake for 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. (Bake about 2-3 minutes longer for a crumblier cake.)

Allow to cool. Queue up your favorite series on Netflix, grab a cup of coffee, and enjoy the rest of your Saturday!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ramen Bar

Image

Unlike the seeming many of my peers, I don’t have regretful notions of a college era spent subsisting off of a ramen. It was there, of course, those shiny plastic packets stocked next to the microwave-safe containers of Campbell’s, the boxes of Easy Mac (the best/worst thing to happen to college students since Stouffer’s frozen mac’n’cheese), and (always my mainstay, even to this day) the PBJ fixings.

But while I was not immune to the seductive allure of processed, easy and fast, microwaveable junk dinners, I had it better than a lot of other students because my campus was small, the dining options quick to get to, the selection of decent quality, and I was the proud owner of a complete meal pass for three out of four years. Even when I moved to a campus apartment, which was outfitted with a kitchen for the express purpose of self-feeding, I continued near daily visits to the dining hall. My ramen era would have to wait.

I am not so ignorant of the food traditions of various other cultures that the idea of a moderately upscale ramen place was surprising to me. Admittedly, I assumed such a thing was inevitable. Remodeling the street food of other cultures into destination dining is an easy sell in the contemporary culinary landscape. The Ramen Bar has a hook that is both international and innately familiar, making it a perfect complement to its fellow restaurants in the busy Forbes/Murray/Shady corridor of Squirrel Hill.

Ramen Bar on Urbanspoon

Continue reading

Cheeky Chickpea Falafel

Image

One way that I knew I was becoming an adult was that my method of making falafel evolved past using the boxed, pre-made falafel mix produced by Manischewitz. Upon producing my first batch of from-scratch, homemade falafel, I felt something akin to what people must feel when they make their first batch of homemade chicken noodle soup or their first non-frozen, non-Stouffer’s lasagna. Heck, I felt that way when I made my first from-scratch pancakes, and pancakes are one of the simplest (and cheapest) things to produce from scratch.

Why do we rely on pre-made goods to deliver the foods we enjoy? I think it’s a combination of the following things: Over-reliance on the food experiences we are used to, fear of screwing up our favorites, and limited time, patience, energy, and equipment. Also, for years I prepared food mainly for myself and most recipes, whether it’s a pot of soup or a plate of falafel, produce too much for one person to consume in a short period of time. Short of dinner parties and potlucks, a can of soup made more sense for my lifestyle.

I cook for two (sometimes three, if our roommate is home) now, so the amount of food is no question. But I have a long commute to and from work, so when I come home to prepare dinner, fast and simple is usually the rule. One of the defining factors of my adult life is when I decided fast and simple did not have to mean pre-made or processed.

Thanks, adulthood!

Continue reading

Smoke Barbecue Taqueria


There are a lot of reasons a Pittsburgher like me might envy Chicago. The flat landscape makes biking the entire city a cinch. They’ve got a public transportation system that, in my limited opinion, rivals that of any other city. There are beaches. There is a vibrant music scene punctuated by visits from notable bands from all over the world. There are more veg-friendly establishments in one or two neighborhoods than in the entirety of Pittsburgh (although this is rapidly becoming less true).

But the real point of jealousy, for me, is the Mexican food. The glorious, glorious array of offerings all over the city, from the high-end cuisine of Rick Bayless to the lowest of the lowly late-night burrito joints. In this regard, it’s not just the level of quality, but the sheer quantity available. Every neighborhood, every business area, seemingly every street, many open 24 hours, seven days a week. That’s an absurd amount of riches for one city and I, for one, am sick of Pittsburgh getting the short shrift on Mexican dining.

I guess I’m not alone, because in the last year or so, half a dozen openings have given local fans of Mexican, Latin American, and similarly minded cuisine a reason to stop envying our Midwest cousin city and start sampling the scattered options around town. If this gives locals a good reason to visit Brookline Boulevard or the area of Homestead that is not the Waterfront, then so be it.

While the taco stand at Las Palmas in Brookline still holds my affection as “Best Sign That Pittsburgh is Finally Getting Some Decent Mexican Food” as well as “Best Damn Lunch You Can Get for $5,” a recent contender has approached and made a powerful first strike in the war for my love: Smoke Barbecue Taqueria. A blend of traditional Mexican food and American barbecue, this little restaurant gives people like me a lot to get excited about.

Located just around the corner from the Waterfront on Eighth Avenue, Smoke is about as tiny as you can get without being a strictly takeout joint. The name of the game is house-made, from the tortillas to the beverages. The menu is an efficient affair of a few breakfast items, the small but mighty list of tacos, and some classic side options to complement the main course. The food can be ordered to-go or eaten inside the small and funky dining area that is comprised of three sets of mismatched tables and chairs and a little counter seating area.

I wouldn’t suggest going to Smoke on an empty stomach. When me and my dining companions made our first visit, we were surprised by a sign on the door that read “Ran out. Temporarily closed until 7:00 pm.” Luckily for us, it was about quarter till. We were invited in and waited at one of the tables until they were ready to start serving again. And by “they” I mean the skeleton staff of two, maybe three people preparing and serving the food and handling transactions. Because of this, the service was slow, but amicable. As the restaurant started to fill up with patrons, we couldn’t really blame the staff for the long wait for our food. They were beyond busy.

Smoke Barbecue and Taqueria on Urbanspoon

Continue reading

Pusadee’s Garden


Right now, we’re experiencing some of the most beautiful weather one could ask for, so I ask you all this: Where have you been dining outdoors this season? At home? By the waterside? On the top of a mountain? At an upper Lawrenceville Thai restaurant dominated by its pastoral picture book of a garden?

If you answered the last option, than you have most likely made a recent visit to Pusadee’s Garden, a family owned Thai restaurant boasting an outdoor seating area as beautiful as its food is delicious. Time and time again, talk of Pusadee’s comes back to the garden – how lovely it is, how big, how lush – and it’s true that the restaurant’s major asset lies in its backyard (or, rather, side-yard). That’s not to say it’s not exceptional in other ways, however, especially considering how well it fares against its competition just up the hill in Bloomfield…

But oh, that garden. That garden!


There’s a special feeling when eating amidst such verdant beauty. You’re outside, but you feel tucked away in your own private garden. There are diners all around, yet somehow it feels sublimely intimate. All around you there is distraction – a cluster of interesting flowers, an imposing thrust of green leaves as thick as the napkins on the table, a scattering of herbs all around, and of course, the frame and trellis providing a modest barrier with only the barest of woodwork. It’s rustic, elegant, sophisticated gardening gone just wild enough on the edges to make one feel like you could get lost without the tables to guide your way.

To put it another way, although you’re seconds away from Butler Street, you feel as if you could be dining in a garden in the middle of nowhere. It’s a pastoral entrancement that translates into the meal itself.

More than uplifting the normal dining experience, the garden setting somehow accentuates the flavors of the meal. The psychic effect of so much fresh-grown flora is a heightened concentration on the fresh flavors of the food. When not distracted by the scenery, me and my dining companion, Jackie, focused in on the menu, a straightforward mix of Thai classics, including soups, curries, noodle and rice dishes, and “garden” specialties.

Pusadee's Garden on Urbanspoon

Continue reading

CSA #11 and the Pursuit of Purslane

Because I’m still getting settled into the new place and into a new routine (or lack thereof), it’s difficult to say that this past week was back to normal, but it was about as normal a week as I could ask for. There was some cooking, some cleaning, some errand-running. There was a pleasant and inclement-weather-free evening trip to Kennywood. Some bike riding, some strolling. A couple of notable restaurant trips which I will write about in coming entries.

Two not-so-mundane things this week: On Friday, there was a giant storm that flooded various regions of the area, sweeping away cars on the street and knocking out power in many neighborhoods. I know this is a food blog and I don’t pull too much focus on local news, but I would like to extend my sincerest sympathies to all those affected by storm, especially the families and friends of the four people who lost their lives in the flash flood that occurred near the intersection of Washington Boulevard and Allegheny River Boulevard.

The lesser news was that this week was another pick up for our CSA through Garfield Community Farm. The bounties have been consistently solid throughout the past few weeks, and if volunteering on Thursday evening was any indication, there is still a lot in store for both the subscribers to the CSA and the many other people and organizations the farm benefits.

I’m not exactly known for my gardening skills. My one gardening claim to fame was when a giant pot of basil that I had been tending all the sudden disappeared from the front steps of my Dormont apartment building. I come home one day and it’s gone. Just vanished completely. I mean, I get that stuff that isn’t locked down is ripe for theft, but basil? A big planter full of it? Was someone just strolling through the neighborhood with a hankering for pesto and criminal activity?

The truth was both more complicated and far more plausible. Our across the street neighbor, Val, had come by to visit our neighbor in her first-floor apartment, noticed that the basil was looking a little beat, and took it back to her place to nurse it back to health. She had rectified my gardening negligence by adopting the plant as her own, for which I can only be thankful. I’m sure that the plant and planter live happily over at Val’s place to this day, booming and blooming for the adoptive parent that rescued them from their former desperate station.

Over the years, I have tried my hand at quite a few herbs, with mixed results. Seemingly unable to grow even my own chives, I have stayed away from larger gardening experiments, like growing actual vegetables, even though the process has not seemed that difficult when I have observed other gardeners at work. This hesitancy led me to believe that I might not be such a great volunteer for the Garfield Community Farm, but as is usually the case in these matters, I was wrong.

Let me say very simply that farming is hard work. Anyone involved in a moderate-scale agricultural project could tell you that there are infinite tasks to complete on any given day, much of the tasks being something that a trained monkey or diligent child could perform, let alone an adult with some capabilities toward rational and reasonable thinking. While there are many, many farming skills that must be honed over time, a lot of farm work is grunt labor. So my concerns were completely for naught, because though I feared accidentally destroying an entire crop of one thing or another, I was set to work on basic tasks that fairly insured my potential damage to the far would be slight. I watered crops, picked several containers worth of little orange tomatoes, and carefully weeded, trying to avoid any unpleasant surprises like unearthing a share’s worth of onions.

And I became better acquainted with that incredible edible weed, purslane. As noted in previous weeks, purslane is an edible weed that is both cultivated and wild-growing. Its little leafy greens offer substantial texture and flavor, a little sour, a little salty, and with the right amount of crunch to the lighter ends of the stem.

And it wouldn’t be my typical endorsement if I didn’t tell you how ridiculously nutritional purslane is. Namely, it contains a higher count of omega-3s than any other leafy vegetable, in addition to its high levels of potassium, iron, calcium, and vitamins. It can be cultivated but is also, as stated before, a weed, so look for it growing wild on the side of the road, in the cracks of sidewalks, and verdant vacant lots.


Purslane, peppers, salad mix.


Cauliflower, summer squash, zucchini, tomatoes.


Kale and beets (!)

Brookline Pub


Bar-and-restaurants are not created equal. For every notable, really decent place to grab a brew and some food, there are at least a dozen that are notable only in their place-less, generic nature. These sub-par establishments usually serve the same blend of tasteless, mediocre (and below) food at junk prices to complement whatever beer special is attracting the local population. This isn’t meant as an insult to these places. A perfectly fine watering hole does not guarantee a decent place to eat, but that does not negate the positives of visiting. You just have to keep your expectations in line with where you are.

The problem with setting expectations, however, is that it’s often difficult to discern the good from the bad upon initial glance. Some sparkly, polished, pre-fab pubs offer dismal food offerings, while some of the dingiest, grimiest hole-in-the-walls conceal culinary treasures worthy of frequent visits with or without drinking.

Situated in the middle of the business district on Brookline Boulevard, Brookline Pub certainly has its location going for it. Also to its favor: The multi-room set-up, including a sheltered patio area and an enclosed dedicated non-smoking room. The main area is taken up by a smattering of tables and chairs, with the bar dead center.

As far as general environment, this is the type of place to go drinking, not eating. The main area is large, loud, and smokey, and the non-smoking section is small and rundown. Also, because it is tucked away off to the side, the non-smoking section is seemingly forgettable from a service standpoint. (Although, I will admit, this is more of a service matter than an issue with the layout, which I will get to eventually.)

Given its size, location, and agreeable price-point, it excels as a place to grab a cold one, but as a spot to get some grub, it proved less desirable.

Anyone who has watched a considerable amount of Gordon Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares can tell you that one of the main problems found in most mid-level restaurants is that the menu is too large. While a laminated double-sided menu doesn’t seem like it would be huge, Brookline Pub manages to pack a lot of stuff onto both ends, including a list of wing flavors numbering somewhere around twenty. Quantity and variety seem like positives, but so many options give the kitchen little time to specialize and strengthen specific meals. Everything ends up mediocre, and because there is so much of it, that’s a whole lot of mediocre.

Worse still, the mediocre offerings were on classic bar menu items, proving that even something as simple as a chicken wing or pierogi can be undone by lackluster preparation.

Brookline Pub on Urbanspoon

Continue reading

CSA #10 and the Wonderful World of Tempeh

It was a hectic Thursday of CSA pick-up and more sad goodbyes. Everyone is leaving town and I’m swimming in beautiful farm-fresh vegetables, not a terribly opportune moment to have a kitchen so plentiful, but so be it. James and I have somehow managed to get the stuff eaten, even if a few items end up sacrificed.

And I’m getting better and better at using what we have on hand. Just a quick (and unfortunately photo-less) recap:
– The Swiss chard ended up in another vegan frittata
– The carrots and summer squash went into a salad of shredded red cabbage
– The beans and broccoli were steamed and eaten as a late-night snack
– One tomato was used in the production of TLTs. The others were diced up and served on pasta, along with fried zucchini and summer squash.
– The Chinese eggplant was sliced, sauteed, and eaten over rice.
– The array of small tomatoes made their way into various pastas and salads
– The onion and garlic were used throughout the week, portioned out over various dishes.

We’ve eaten pretty darn well thanks to the CSA subscription. I’ve been holding onto the beets, but I’m thinking a beet and spinach salad might be in order for later on today. With the fair amount of cooking done over the weekend, the simpler the better for this rainy Monday afternoon.

I didn’t get time to take pictures of the entire CSA bounty for this past week, but among the highlights:
– Another robust eggplant
– Kale
– A beautiful assortment of tomatoes
– Braising greens
– Carrots
– Potatoes (all were promptly eaten the next morning)
– Purple beans
– Zucchini
– Garlic
– Onion

Last week also marked a transition for me as I went from casual to utterly devoted fan of tempeh. While I eat tofu at least five out of seven days a week and have even tried my hand at making my own seitan more than a few times, I have only worked sparingly with tempeh. The earthy, slightly nutty, slightly mushroom-y flavor has always been something I was hesitant to work with, not so much in regards to my own palate as others. No matter what you do with tempeh, it’s always going to have those underlying flavors. The trick to working with it is to use it in dishes where its primary qualities play into the overall flavors of the dish. Tempeh doesn’t change, it changes you.

Tempeh has been a staple of Indonesia for thousands of years. Soy beans are plentiful, the production method is fairly simple, and the result is a versatile substance that is a protein powerhouse. Seriously, in a nutritional battle between tempeh and its Southeast Asian soybean brother, tofu, tempeh wins every round. The traditional starter for the fermentation process even boosted the B12 levels of the tempeh to ridiculously high proportions, although production stateside tends to be without this property.

While tofu is available in nearly every supermarket now, tempeh is still mostly relegated to specific larger groceries (Whole Foods) and specialty food stores. Its stunted availability is probably one of the reasons why many vegetarians and vegans don’t acquaint themselves with tempeh right away. Getting to know tempeh allows one to adjust to its unique flavor properties. Learning the intricacies of the food allows you to better utilize its strong points in the dishes where it is incorporated.

Unlike tofu, which is a veritable flavor sponge, tempeh has restrictions, but not as many as you might think. The nutty flavors play well against most basic sauces and its texture makes it easy to use for sandwiches, stir fry, pasta, etc. The best way to get to know tempeh early on is to grill it. Grilled tempeh toughens up the texture to a chewy, meaty consistency, and accentuates the smokey qualities. It also takes to a marinade really well, so there’s no excuse for lack of flavor.

Because most of my cookbooks are still packed, I’ve been steadily working my way through the indispensable Vegan Brunch. For months, I have been eyeing up “Tempeh Sausage Pastry Puffs,” thinking two things: 1) “What a great way to use tempeh!” and 2) “Holy shit, puff pastry!” When I had my family over for brunch to break in my new residence, I figured now was the time to shoot for something a bit more advanced than pancakes and scramble and potatoes.

Given all the skills I have developed over the past few years, surely I could make something as simple but sophisticated as these lovely little puffed squares. Surely something this manageable was within my purview. I could even make a decent vegan gravy to match. It was all going to be so simple.

Of course I screw it up. Not having ever worked with puff pastry, I didn’t exactly interpret the instructions correctly. Or maybe I did but became convinced that I hadn’t. Not really sure, but either way, I had to abruptly alter plans. That’s how square pastry puffs turned into pastry puff pinwheels. The rest is quickly devoured history.

Note on the recipe: The original called for at least an hour of marinading the tempeh, but I suggest overnight for full flavor. And don’t skip the fennel. It really brings together the sausage flavor of the filling mix.

Tempeh Sausage Puff Pinwheels

Ingredients
- 8 oz. tempeh, crumbled
– 1 package puff pastry (as recommended by Vegan Brunch, Pepperidge Farm puff pastry is vegan)

For the marinade:
– 1 cup vegetable broth
– 3 tbsp soy sauce
– 2 tbsp lemon juice

For the tempeh filling:
– 2 tbsp olive oil
– 1 red  bell pepper, finely chopped
– 1 small onion, finely chopped
– 2-4 garlic cloves, minced
– 2 tsp fennel seeds, chopped
– 2 tsp dried basil
– 2 tsp dried rosemary
– 1 tsp red pepper flakes
– Salt and black pepper to taste
– Extra olive oil

- Combine the ingredients for the marinade in an airtight container. Toss in the crumbled tempeh and seal. Keep in the fridge overnight.

- Prepare the a large pan over medium heat. Saute pepper and onion until the onion is translucent, then add garlic and spices and saute until garlic is slightly browned. Add drained tempeh and turn the heat to medium high. Cook for up to 15 minutes, stirring often to prevent burning.

- Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. Apply a fine layer of olive oil to a large baking sheet.

- You should have two sheets of puff pastry. Cut each sheet into nine squares. You should have a total of eighteen rectangles.

- To assemble the pinwheel, take a rectangle and unfold it so that it is a single layer. Brush a little olive oil on the inside, then apply some of the tempeh filling. Gently roll up the dough around the filling. Whatever falls out can be stuffed back in once the edges are sealed. It does not have to look perfect, but the edge should be sealed with your fingers or a fork so that it does not fall apart while baking.

- Repeat steps until you have all eighteen filled or have run out of filling. Line the finished pastries on the baking sheet about an inch apart.

- Bake for 18 to 20 minutes, until the pastries are puffed and golden. Serve warm.

(Recipe adapted from Vegan Brunch by Isa Chandra Moskowitz)

Blue Dust


Pittsburghers have a weird relationship with our industrial past, an equal split of looking backward and forward. We want to move into the future eschewing all that limited us in the past, but our lives and the overall life of our city is irrevocably tied to those very same limitations. We make shopping centers out of smokestacks, but we’re still learning how to address the past concern while retaining a contemporary focus.

This tension is evident in all matter of city-living, including dining out of both high and low end varieties. Truth be told, the more casual, low-key establishments have the edge. However intriguingly the local past is interpreted by the latest four-star restaurant, our industrial roots are far more linked into the culture of the watering hole, the post-work drinking spot, the refuge of idle for those with far too much weight to carry.

It’s very possible to  envision the direct ancestors of Blue Dust as the type of safe haven for the sullen, sullied masses, even as the present-day variation features accommodations unknown to that history. Its placement – just over the railroad tracks from the Waterfront in Homestead – is indicative of the type of establishment it means to be, the type of establishment far more linked with the Homestead of yore than the glossy, consumer-paradise of today.


Pittsburgh’s industrial past is represented not just in placement but in decor. Dusky impressions of mills and factories adorn the far wall and the lighting is spare but golden, hanging from metal rods and fixtures that give the restaurant a factory-floor feel echoed by the earthy color of the tiles and woodwork.

As a simple, stylish homage to Pittsburgh’s roots, Blue Dust’s decor and atmosphere succeeds. But what of its menu? Does it hearken back to the old days of simple, nourishing foods? Or does it play it safe by sticking to contemporary bar/restaurant casual dining staples?

Blue Dust on Urbanspoon

Continue reading

Conversatin’ Fridays: Mama, I’m Movin’ Out

After a quick three-day jaunt out of town, I am back in Pittsburgh to finish what I really started last week: Moving out of my lovely apartment in the loveliest lil’ borough of Dormont. I packed up the books (Eighteen boxes! Not counting the cookbooks!), then the movies, then the records, which  meant, of course, that I’d have to eventually get around to packing up my kitchen.

Which I’m still in the process of doing. I spent nearly all day in and out of the kitchen, wrapping up glasses and plates in newspaper, stuffing boxes full of random utensils, stripping off the worn and dingy shelf paper, finding the right box to hold all of my spices and baking accessories. In one little kitchen there seems to be so much that needs to be done. You have to wonder how it only took two years to pack this much intricacies into a room. It feels like there’s something in every corner.

Tomorrow movers come in to transport my beloved yellow kitchen table (known as “Goldie”) and chairs to its new home in Shadyside, where the affluent and intellectual will surely sense that I do not match the delicate inner workings of the neighborhood and reject me, sending me right back into the arms of the South Hills.

It’s not that I’m not looking forward to trying out Shadyside. I sort of lived in that area while in my undergraduate years at Chatham, but I always stuck to the Squirrel Hill side of the campus. I know of good places to go, but mostly specialty spots, places that I wouldn’t necessarily visit on a regular basis. I need the rundown on the staples.

While I attack the rest of my apartment, I ask you affluent, intellectual types out there: What is there to do in Shadyside? Best coffee shop? Best restaurant? Best place to grab a cheap lunch? Any suggestions?