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Goodies from the PGH Taco Truck!

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Hello, My Friend, Hello

Hello, friends! Miss me?

(*crickets*)

Okay, well, you all have probably moved on. And for good reason! What kind of big jerk blogs loyally for a year, then drops everything just as she’s getting a small following, not to mention getting to know the fantastic food blogging community of Western Pennsylvania? What kind of big jerk would abandon ship like that?

Well… this big jerk.

There will be oh so much time to reconnect over the next several posts, but I won’t bore you with too many details. Suffice to say, I went to grad school and that became my days and nights. I found out that getting your Masters degree in one year is an incredible time suck (yeah, haha, who would have thunk it, but seriously, I don’t think I had one single day off from school or school-related working from September 2011 to August 2012). The time not dedicated to school work was almost exclusively devoted to sleeping.

But that’s all in the past. The ever-growing past, as it seems. I graduated in August, got a full-time job by the end of the month, and have been adjusting to and enjoying that new postition ever since….

Except something has been missing from my life. It started off as a twinge of heartache whenever I’d come across a new local food blog, or when in the infrequent moments I was able to catch up with the bloggers I’ve been following for years.

Then, I’d be at some breakfast or lunch or dinner or potluck and I’d come across some delicious dish, some delectable goodie, and I’d have the instantaneous desire to grab my camera. But I’m no Instagram afficiando and I don’t really believe that taking pictures of amazing food does amazing food justice. That’s just my humble opinion, and it probably stems from the fact that I’ve never failed to use 1000 words when 500 would suffice.

But I could never be satisfied with just keeping visual records of the food I’ve made/consumed. Really good food writing can be as good as any top quality non-fiction. It can be as riveting as a bestselling mystery, as enticing and seductive as any of the three Fifty Shades of Gray installments (which, for the record, do not contain any recipes that I can think of).

Long story short (“TOO LATE!”), here I am. I hope we can get to know each other again.

Good Morning, Breakfast Casserole!


The word “casserole” comes from the French meaning “sauce pan,” and as far as the dish may have come from its 18th century roots, there is no doubting that the basic idea remains the same: One dish, many ingredients. Everything cooked together, everything served together. The ingredients may have evolved over the years (I assume they didn’t have condensed soup in the 18th century), but alas, the basic concept remains the same.

But not the reputation. In the last few years, casseroles have taken on a kind of vogue for twenty and thirty -somethings,  especially among vegetarians and vegans who have made them a potluck staple. The casseroles of yesterday – the tuna salad, the green bean, the creamed chicken – maligned as they were when we were kids are now becoming objects of heightened significance, their kitsch value accentuating what we may have forgotten: That casseroles can be absolutely freaking delicious.

Breakfast, lunch, dinner, casseroles can be eaten at any time of day for any meal. Their malleable serving size allows for portions both big and small, so coupled with their highly portable nature, they do make a rather good fit for a potluck. People my age seem to light up at the mention of a casserole. There’s something to the word itself, a promise of comfort, of satisfaction, of warmth.

When talking about casseroles, a lot of the same responses can be heard, usually said with a mix of fond memory and fond disgust. Here’s a random sampling of the responses I got when I asked friends about the casseroles in their past:

“My mom used to make this casserole with cream of mushroom soup and rice. Ugh. She made it every week.”

“I remember this Beef Stroganoff-casserole thing that they served to us at school. It was really gross but also kind of good. Actually, I wish I could get some right now.”

“Medium pasta shells layered with cheese, tomato sauce, and ground beef. It was my grandmother’s recipe. She had 6 kids to feed and it was a hearty dish. I liked it enough. We lived in a hamburgers, spaghetti, Hamburger Helper household, so any sort of variation from the bland and boxed norm was appreciated by me.”

Meatloaf became some kind of casserole. Leftover macaroni became some kind of casserole. Leftover rice became some kind of casserole. We ate everything twice.”

For this past Sunday, I broke out Vegan Brunch yet again and found that, of course, Isa’s got a breakfast casserole. I halved the recipe’s main ingredients, but kept a lot of the spices and minor ingredients at the same amount. Loads of flavor, but not as much leftovers to keep around after the fact.

It’s a little heavy on the soy products, so if you find that mixing tofu and tempeh doesn’t sit well on your stomach, try rice or beans (or both) on top instead of the crumbled tempeh mixture. It’s a casserole, so don’t feel like you need every ingredient in the list. Think like all those crafty home cooks and lunch ladies and use what you’ve got in your pantries.

Sunday Morning Breakfast Casserole

Ingredients

For potato layer:
– 1 large yellow potato
– 1 tbsp olive oil
– 1 tsp smoked paprika
– Salt and pepper

For tempeh layer:
– 8 oz. tempeh, crumbled
– 1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
– 2 tsp garlic, minced
– 2 tbsp soy sauce
– 1 tsp olive oil
– 1/2 tsp lemon juice
– 1 tsp fennel seeds, chopped
– 1 tsp sage
– Black pepper

For tofu layer:
– 1 lb firm tofu
– 2 tsp garlic, minced
– 2 tbsp soy sauce
– 1 tsp olive oil
– 1/2 tsp lemon juice
– 1 tsp ground cumin
– 1 tsp dried rosemary
– 1/2 tsp tumeric
– 2 tbsp nutritional yeast (optional)
– Salt and pepper to taste

– Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Cut potato into slices 1/4 inch thick. Layer in a casserole dish, overlapping if necessary, then drizzle olive oil onto slices. Add paprika salt, and pepper, using your hands to toss the potatoes until all slices are well coated. Bake in the oven for 35 minutes, until slices are tender and easily pierced with a fork.

– Crumble the tempeh into a bowl, then add the rest of the layer ingredients. Mix together until tempeh is coated. Set aside.

– Squeeze out some of the water from the tofu, then place in a mixing bowl. Mash the tofu, then add the remaining layer ingredients. Mix well.

– Once the potatoes are done and tender, spread the tofu layer on top of the potatoes, pressing it into place firmly with a spatula. Place the tempeh layer on top and pat down as well.

– Return the pan to the oven for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the tempeh is browned. Allow to cool, then cut and serve.

(Recipe adapted from “Mom’s Morning Casserole” – Vegan Brunch by Isa Chandra Moskowitz)

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…

Loving Hut


It’s like fate keeps conspiring to get me to eat out in Robinson area. First it was the Bocktown Beer and Grill, a neighborhood bar in an area filled out with suburban chains. Now it’s Loving Hut, perhaps the oddest restaurant to ever occupy a storefront between the main Robinson shopping area and the still fairly new Settlers Ridge.

Loving Hut is an international chain of vegan restaurants. Not vegetarian. Not vegan-friendly. Not just “green” or eco-conscious or focused on “healthy-eating.” Vegan. 100% without animal products. It’s one thing to have those two or three local eateries which cater to veg folks, but it’s another thing entirely to have an international chain of hundreds of restaurants, a kind of globe-spanning vegan McDonalds. And now we have one, tucked away about a mile up the road from Settler’s Ridge, a  little zen hideaway in the middle of a territory dominated by burgers, fried cheese sticks, and other various offerings of places like TGI Fridays.


Loving Hut on Urbanspoon

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Hospital Food Do’s and DON’T’S!

When you take a grumbly stomach, and attempt to please it, do yourself a favor and shy far away from the banquet hall of misery that is Mercy Hospital in Pittsburgh. Allow me a few shades of the disharmony that operates in a surgical manner of discontent and awkwardness that approached my eager and near panicky palette.

Issue #1.

When a vending machine greets you with a welcoming rumble only for actual placement of said dollar to be left weary and rejected from the complete lack of mechanical stirrings AFTER the initial welcome. Note to self, looking directly into the eyes of the beast, and jamming the dollar, and DIFFERENT dollar bills from any number of angles for consecutive tries over anguished minutes will only increase your utterance of the word “Bastard!”

Issue #2.

9:35AM in most parts of the United States is a wee bit closer to the late clinging on of breakfast than the early rumblings of lunch, at least for rational risers of a later morning dietary schedule. Being “greeted” by steaming hot pans of……nothing, isn’t much of a warm greeting at all. Furthermore disenchantment ensues when the burger barf patties sit idly by across the way on the lunch griddle with cold wisps of air rising from their pre-made vile little forms.

Issue #3.

With fly drawing sweet roll, Nutri-Grain flavored muck, and overly sweetened OJ in hand, the continuing lack of discontent is brought further into blissful harmony by the ineptitude of a cashier smashing about on register keys only to reject my credit card time and time again. Enter cashier number 2. Functional and fast is always welcome, but the price tag of $4.66 for a breakfast of freeze dried, larva loving, sweet syrup delight……..is not.

Now while I’m assuming most folks won’t travel or stay for the food down here at Mercy Hospital, I would like passersby to drop out of their way, give or take a few hundred miles, to take jaw dropping note…….of the future! (Note photo below for the future’s resounding presence!)

Good Morning, Lullaby!

Does her voice bring you peace? Her words a long sought solace? Can you feel the tears from a long day’s journey of the heart soften and quickly mend when you open your ears? A good musician stays with you throughout the day. A fantastic one throughout a lifetime.

I had the pleasure of hearing and seeing Brandi Carlile very early in the calendar year, and towards the end of it as we are currently, I can still soundly say that her words and voice have affected me more deeply than any artist I’ve witnessed perform through this year’s entirety. To say I was elated to discover that she’d be performing this evening on PBS’s “Austin City Limits” would be an understatement. If you haven’t sampled any of her eloquent heartfelt ballads in concert or over your stereo speakers, than I can think of no finer introduction than this particular program.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I do, and the next time her tour bus rolls around into Pittsburgh, or a city anywhere within a couple of hundred miles for that matter, I’ll expect to see you there..!