Monthly Archives: August 2011

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

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CSA #9: It’s Fun to Say ‘Frittata’

Because of the move and a whole world of personal business, we opted out of last week’s CSA package. One of the best aspects of subscribing to the Garfield Community Farm is that if you can’t make a pick up, all you have to do is let them know and they will donate your share to someone in the Garfield community that could use the fresh produce. So we didn’t have to waste anything and someone got to eat some delicious farm fresh vegetables. Feels like we really didn’t miss out on anything at all.

Still, I missed my weekly visit to the farm and was glad to head over there again this week, where apparently fortune smiled on our previous week’s action and delivered unto us a bounty upon which we had not yet experienced. Carrots, squash, peppers, onions, garlic, beautiful tomatoes, oh my! And making another appearance is the current star player of our weekly subscription, Swiss chard.

Swiss chard has many names – silverbeet, perpetual spinach, spinach beet, crab beet, bright lights, seakale beet, mangold – and even more uses. Because it shares a mild bitterness with kale and collards but cooks down easily like spinach, it’s one of the most useful greens to have in your kitchen. It works in salads and soups and pasta dishes. It can work for any meal time. It’s great raw,  it’s great cooked. Versatile and easy to work with, Swiss chard is also a looker. Its ruby-red stems can be cooked along with the leafy greens, so long as you snip off the really woody part toward the end.

And did I mention its nutritional properties yet? This green wonder is rich with Vitamins A, K,  and C, dietary fiber and minerals. Before the CSA, I used chard from time to time, but now it’s become a staple of my fridge. If and when I start my own garden next year, I plan on making it one of my major crops, if only so I can keep my personal supply robust and ever-present.

This week’s CSA round-up in photos:

Swiss chard, carrots

Green and purple beans, broccoli.

Tomatoes, summer squash

More tomatoes, beets, garlic, onions, Chinese eggplant

This week was so chard-centered that I made the following recipe (from Isa Chandra Moskowitz’s indispensable cookbook Vegan Brunch) twice.

Swiss Chard Frittata

– 1 tbsp olive oil
– 4 garlic cloves, sliced thin
– 1 small onion, finely chopped
– 1 bunch Swiss chard, chopped well
– 1 tsp basil
– 1 tsp parsley
– 1 lb firm tofu
– 1 tbsp soy sauce
– 1 tsp yellow mustard
– 1/4 tsp turmeric
– 1 & 1/4 tsp black pepper
– 1/4 cup nutritional yeast
– Salt to taste

– Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly grease an 8-inch pie plate.

– Saute the onions in the oil until slightly tender, about a two minutes. Add garlic and continue cooking until the garlic is golden brown. Add the chard, basil, and parsley and cook until the chard is completely soft.

– Crumble tofu into a separate bowl, then add soy sauce, mustard, turmeric, black pepper, and nutritional yeast. Mix well, then add the chard mixture. Toss until well combined.

– Firmly press tofu-chard mix into the pie plate. Bake for 20 minutes, until the frittata is firm and golden brown on top. Allow to cool before serving.

Silky’s Crow’s Nest

A while back, I worked as a front desk clerk for a hotel and restaurant in the area. Because we had no formal concierge, the front desk was expected to manage visitor requests and questions, among the most popular being, “Where should we go to get dinner?” Many times, this question would be coupled with additional criteria: “Where should we go to get dinner on the riverfront?”

To that question, there isn’t an easy answer. While we have many restaurants on the river, so where can you go is not an issue. Where should you go… well, that’s an entirely different story.

Like any waterfront real estate, properties by the riverside are highly sought after. The ability to dine while overlooking a body of water will never go out of favor – just ask the fine folks of some of the most mediocre restaurants lining our East Coast beaches. It really doesn’t seem to matter to most waterfront restaurants whether their food is of decent quality, their staff well trained, efficient, and friendly, or even their interior atmosphere welcoming. The whole sell is that they’re on the water, which puts their diners that much closer to the water, and that setting in of itself is enough to get people through the door.

There are exceptions, of course. And then there are places like Silky’s Crow’s Nest, which is neither the exception nor the rule waterfront dining, but instead inhabits a limbo between above-par dining and sub-par riverside stride. But, as with many places of its type, the bar and restaurant requires the diner to set their expectations realistically. When reaching for a menu item just a bit above ordinary, the chances of their kitchen turning out something splendid is fairly slim.

Silky's Crows Nest on Urbanspoon

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Anatomy of a Sandwich: To’ Boy

First off, apologies for the nearly week-long delay in posts. The past week was filled with moving boxes from Point A to Point B, then racing back to Point A to spend seven hours cleaning, then racing back to Point B to get enough unpacked so that I wouldn’t be living purely out of suitcases, then back to Point A to say goodbye to some very important people who are forgoing Point A and Point B and are, in fact, moving away from these Points completely. So of course, I had to return to Point B, my adopted home, to cry.

The traditional Po’ boy is very simple: A cut of baguette-like Louisiana French bread is layered with fried seafood or some kind of roasted meat. Lettuce, tomato, mayo, and possibly onions and pickles are added. Nothing crazy, right? It’s a sandwich like most sandwiches in that includes meat, toppings, and is sandwiched between preferably good quality bread. But like many sandwiches, it has earned a vaulted place among sandwiches. We have New Orleans to thank.

According to the Wikipedia entry, Po’ boy shops are the most basic of restaurants, the very simplest being a counter in which the sandwiches are wrapped and sold with little to no cooking done on the premises. Things progress from there, with the sandwiches being prepared and served in establishments of both low and high calibers. Once fancy restaurants started picking up the beloved dish, it was only a matter of time before it spread to other regions, only this time the trickle was downward, from high to low, instead of from counter and gas station upward. So it is with regional wonders: What is a significant part of one community is a novelty item in another community.

To me, you can’t have a Po’ boy without the pickles and the French bread, but when it comes to the meat filling, the options are a bit more open. When I was thinking of trying a vegan Po’ boy recipe, I considered several ideas for the filling, but I settled on tofu, as it takes to a fried cornmeal breading extremely well, while retaining a tender internal flakiness not unlike catfish. I took a few cues from Veganomicon‘s “Chile and Lime Cornmeal Crusted Tofu” but this was mostly riffing with the items I had on hand. I like my To’ Boy on the spicier side, but play around with the proportions of your spices so that you find a good balance for you.

Also, this sandwich ends up being a bit tall, so prepare your mouth for large bites.

To’ Boy

– 1 lb extra firm tofu, pressed and sliced width-wise in 1/2 inch strips
– 1 cup unsweetened non-dairy milk
– 1 cup ground cornmeal
– 1 tsp baking powder
– 2 tsp chili powder
– 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
– 1/2 tsp black pepper
– 1/2 tsp salt
– 1/2 to 1 tsp lime juice
– Oil for frying
– Vegan mayo
– Sliced pickles – We used Klausen’s “Hearty Garlic” but any good sandwich pickle will do
– 1 baguette or hard loaf of French bread, cut into thirds, then halved
– Uncle Fester’s Hot Pepper Spread – Optional, but we used it as an added sauce on the sandwich and it worked great, not too hot, a little sweet. If you want something a bit more standard, opt for a simple tomato or marinara sauce.

Prepare the tofu
– In a wide, shallow bowl, mix cornmeal with baking powder, lime juice, and spices. Set aside.
– Dip each tofu slice into the non-dairy milk, then dredge through the cornmeal mixture, coating each side evenly. Coated pieces can be set aside.
– Fry your tofu until each side is golden brown. Allow fried tofu slices to cool and drain.

Assemble your To’ Boy
– On each third of baguette, slather one side with vegan mayo, then layer: Pickles on the bottom, tofu slices, sauce (if using). Add some lettuce for added green value. Close up your sandwich and enjoy!

(Tofu adapted from “Chile and Lime Cornmeal Crusted Tofu” from Veganomicon by Isa Chandra Moskowitz)