Tag Archives: A Drink With Dessert

Treasured Time & A Meal At Sienna Sulla Piazza (Pittsburgh, PA)

October 10, 2012

To realize the value of four years:
Ask a graduate.

To realize the value of one year:
Ask a student who has failed a final exam.

To realize the value of nine months:
Ask a mother who gave birth to a stillborn.

To realize the value of one month:
Ask a mother who has given birth to a premature baby.

To realize the value of one week:
Ask an editor of a weekly newspaper.

To realize the value of one minute:
Ask a person who has missed the train, bus or plane.

To realize the value of one second:
Ask a person who has survived an accident.

To realize the value of a friend or family member:
Lose one.

Time waits for no one.
Treasure every moment you have.

You will treasure it even more when
You can share it with someone special.

~Author unknown

My dad sent me that! My dad, who is a bit behind the email curve (but bravely immersing himself in the email world nonetheless), emailed me those words, and the message really struck me. I’m not going to acknowledge I am getting older (exhibit A), but time does seem to be passing me at an alarming rate! The passage of time can be overwhelming, but it can also be celebratory. Eleven months in a relationship might not be a widely acknowledged anniversary or have an associated gift, but why not celebrate each other anyway? We did! We chose a place that was new to both of us: Sienna Sulla Piazza.

WILD MUSHROOM BRUSCHETTA
focaccia, truffle, tomato, parmesan, arugula

Meaty mushrooms and a mound of cheesy arugula is an excellent way to start a meal!

POACHED PEAR SALAD
grapes, frisee, hazelnuts, roasted garlic mascarpone port vinaigrette

I do have a penchant for a touch of fruit atop a salad, but I was even more intrigued by the salad dressing. Mascaprone and port?!? The descriptors were not exaggerative. The dressing really did deliver the sweet acidity of port and the creaminess of mascarpone, and the entire salad was served on a slate board, which really struck my presentation fancy!

LOBSTER RISOTTO
brazilian lobster tail, tomato,zucchini, mascarpone, parmesan

Huge chunks of lobster were buried in that mound! Also of merit were the libations. My special one sipped the Boulevardier, a combination of bulleit rye, carpano antica and campari. I chose the red wine route, and our server went out of his way to help me make my selection (ie: two taste tests later…).

CHIANTI BRAISED BEEF SHORT RIB
orzo mac ‘n cheese, parmesan, mascarpone, tomato-basil jam

The beef was unbelievably tender, and the tomato-basil jam added a really sweet, intense accent flavor.

ZEPPOLE
housemade hazelnut sauce

LEMON TIRIMISU
lady fingers, espresso, cocoa, mascarpone cheese

Though any downtown restaurant draws an oddly mixed crowd, I salute the brick and dark wooden ambiance of the restaurant. The part of the meal that really stuck with me was that tomato-basil jam on the short rib. Concluding with a citrus burst in tirimisu and a chocolate hazelnut drizzled zeppole concluded the evening deliciously. In closing, it’s highly likely I’ll venture to downtown Pittsburgh again for another dinner at Sienna Sulla Piazza. Maybe for a 14th month anniversary?!

Pittsburgh’s Bar Marco (by Night) + The Great American Water Balloon Fight

July 2012

When I was a kid and my family would go out for dinner, my mom wouldn’t let me order the exceedingly basic kids menu items. By no means was she plunging me into a world of foie gras, but she wasn’t about to pay for a PB&J or a hotdog. The point was to order something out of the ordinary, something beyond what she would have made, had we stayed at home. Her approach to dining really shaped how I think about restaurants. They are experiences. They should earn my money by exposing me to something unique, distinguishing their offerings from my own kitchen.

This explains why I review design, atmosphere and responsible food choices when I think about a restaurant. Brunch at Pittsburgh’s Bar Marco had already met my criteria by day, so I was excited for samplings when the sun would set through the enviably large front windows. My excuse for dining at Bar Marco proved even further this new Pittsburgh establishment is crafting not just snacks, drinks or meals, but experiences.

I happen to work with one of the nicest girls in the world. As part of her desire to care for everyone (and I mean everyone), she volunteers with an organization called Team Tassy. Inspired by one boy’s story in Haiti, the organization works to eliminate poverty one family at a time. They’re not a simple handout charity. They aid each situation on a case-by-case basis to enable a child, so perhaps that child will become a solution for his or her impoverished nation, rather than a tragic story. What does a Pittsburgh restaurant with an eye on the community and local foods have to do with an organization set to save the world..?

Water Balloons!

Team Tassy hosted The Inaugural Great American Water Balloon Fight. Why? In their words, “Giving and helping should be a joy, so when we sat down to talk about how to involve the community with what we do, we thought of the craziest, most joyous stuff we could. ‘Water Balloon Fight’ topped the list, and now you’re up to speed.”

As you might imagine, throwing a HUGE water balloon fight requires a LOT of water balloons. That’s where Bar Marco came into play. They provided the space and the snacks for water-balloon-filling volunteers, and this blogger happened to count amongst the balloon fillers for a wet minute.

From the filtered, river water to the faucets with balloon-tying apparatuses, Team Tassy had really engineered the outfit! After working our way through a few cupfuls of balloons (and a few balloon casualties resulting in wet feet), we redirected our attention to the host with the most.

Bacon Wrapped Dates w/ Manchego

As any serious bruncher will attest, the boys behind Bar Marco do not mess around with bacon. For an evening salty-sweet, bacon fix, this snack is an obvious choice.

Polenta Fries

If your inner child won’t shut up about mozzarella sticks, this is a far more fulfilling way to appease your inner brat. Your inner game-night fiend will appreciate the Jenga-like structuring of this appetizer. Win-win!

Mussels + Frites

Simple, saucy/sassy mussels (tongue twister?!?!) with perfectly textured fries (not too crisp, not too mushy)

Entree: Duck 

That dreamy glass of “pink wine” belonged to a certain British fella who is not known for restraining his opinions, and this duck passed his test. If you can trust a restaurant’s duck, then you know you have found a keeper. Bar Marco is a keeper!

When we told one of the Bar Marco boys we wanted one of each dessert, he professed love. The feeling was mutual after we ate their tiramisu, an Australian chocolate dessert called Lamington and peaches with a chocolate sauce, especially after the peaches with the chocolate sauce. At this point, I feel obligated to clarify, the “we” I have been using referred to a rather full table of foodies, and all of us were impressed. Mind you, there was even a hamburger, but it never made it in front of the camera. Even foodies have their photographic limits.

If you play nice, you might even end your meal with a digestif compliments of the Bar Marco crew.

Salud!

As for The Great American Water Balloon Fight… (keep an eye on the moose!)

Frozen Berry Dessert, Part Deux: The Delivery (sans celebrities this time around)

July 2012

My fascination with food is not limited to the how. I’m curious about the who, the what, the where and perhaps most importantly, the why. We associate memories with food. We bond over food. We pass our stories as we pass our plates, and we make friends via our tastes. I already showed you the how for a very memorable frozen berry dessert. It was a failure of sorts, but the revisions succeeded in a way that utterly surprised me! However, the dessert’s story did not end there. I was making that dessert for a summer Sunday-the type of summer Sunday that perfectly reminds me of the happiness growing underfoot!

“The foolish man seeks happiness in the distance; the wise grows it under his feet.” ~ James Oppenheim

(A summer Sunday can be downright torturous for a dog who has eyes only for saaaaaausages!)

If we don’t make time, summer’s golden ears will quickly disappear, and grills will enter dormancy.

If we do make time, we might use more butter on golden kernels than we should, just because it’s fancy butter. We might sip more sangria than we should, just to reach the wine-soaked, sangria peaches, bursting with the flavors guarded best by local growing.

If we don’t make time, we might miss the show (sometimes the show is a little racy)…

If we do slow down, we might see what a cold beverage can do to a lady on a hot day. ;P

If we do slow down, we can learn more of our own food story from those who taught us, and we can pass it to those who who care to share it.

If we do slow down, the sky might put on a show in our honor. In our case, the Pittsburgh sky sure was feeling fancy!

The show transitioned to flickering candles and second rounds of adult root beer floats then a downhill stroll to fall asleep to the hum of a fan.

May your hot oven be worked minimally. May your frozen desserts refresh you maximumly! May you enjoy summer’s best hues and lights until a quiet stroll leads you peacefully home!

Cure + Embury = The Salumi of the Dog That Bit Ya!

June 2012

As often as I can, I moonlight [in the daylight hours though, because that's when the lighting is better] as a food stylist for Pittsburgh based photographer Adam Milliron.  Adam is one of the most delightfully busy gents around the town! He can text and sip a cocktail and juggle a growing Vizsla puppy, while simultaneously setting up lights and cameras. Note:  I said “texts.” Adam rarely has a free hand to answer a phone call or conversely, to make a call, so when I saw a missed call from him, I knew something epic was unfolding.  I was correct! The surprise, warranting an actual phone call, was an invite for my special one and me to be Adam’s guest at a Sunday Supper of Seafood & Cocktail Pairings at Cure, one of my favorite Pittsburgh restaurants (as you may recall, I first fell for Cure on my wintry birthday eve)!

As Cure’s website says, when you dine with Cure, you’re supporting many local farms and organic food purveyors.  I applaud Chef/Owner Justin Severino’s commitment to the quality, taste and economic/environmental benefits associated with using local ingredients. Between the interior design of reclaimed wood, the hidden piggies and the communal atmosphere, Justin has created not just a place for a meal, but an entire dining experience.

As if a Sunday tasting menu at Cure were not a big enough slice of heaven, the man, the myth and the legend was lending his mixology wisdom to the cocktail pairings.  Yes- Spencer Warren, who gave Pittsburgh its first Prohibition style bar (which will be reopening in a new location soon!!!), crafted unique cocktails for each course. Fortunately, Spencer shared his concoction details with me, for my head was spinning far too freely with the bliss of the perfect Sunday meal to document the details properly. The meal was a perfectly paced meander through a menu, much like dining with a European family. The best part is, Justin has barely begun to entertain! There are more events and even a farm dinner or two in store! Stick around this nook of the blogosphere, and hopefully, I’ll have notes from a hog butchering at some point.

Caipirinha Peach Punch

Cachaça Peach liquor, Peach Puree and Champagne.

Poured over ice and topped  with Bittermen’s Tiki Bitters. A light and refreshing complement to the chilled, citrus spritzed seafood spread.

Fruits de Mare
Lobster, crab, oysters, goeduck, caviar

Due to birth in a landlocked state (Nebraska) and a mom whose Midwestern roots influenced her cooking, I had often claimed to be a seafood “virgin.” I had this notion of making a seafood mecca to Maine or Scotland or some paradise near the Equator, but much like many a coast, the notion has gradually been eroding.  Aside from other forays into oceanic eating, each orgasmic bite from that seashell blew all notions of seafood virginity out of the water. Take a look at that seashell! It contained such decadent deliciousness. I shall now leave the sexual metaphors at bay [the aquatic puns, however, seem to be continuing], but know this: if you eat seafood at Cure, expect to close your eyes, block out the world and thoroughly savor each bite.

Avocado Mousse w/ Grapefruit Foam

Looking at this course was like studying a section cut of the earth. There were so many layers and textures, but unlike a geology class model, digging into this blend of avocado and citrus accents was far more satisfying.

Tortellini Pie
Ricotta, pig’s feet, San Marzano tomato, basil, Pecorino

The flaky pasta inspired crust revealed shredded, tender meat with the fresh kick of basil and salt from the Pecorino. Furthermore…look at that lobster shaped crust!

The Count Severino

“Since Justin loves Campari and drinking Negroni’s, we made a Campari based cocktail to pair with the [tortellini pie].  What better than an Italian based cocktail with a pasta course.  It was Death’s Door Gin, Campari, and Cynar mixed with fresh grapefruit juice, and a cardamom and date syrup.  It was topped with one of Justin’s salumis (a cocoa & pepper salumi).” – Spencer Warren

Faust’s Pact

“This is an Embury favorite.  We muddle jalapeño with Angostura Bitters, then add lemon, Ginger Syrup, Basil Syrup, and Bluecoat Gin, then pour it up, and top with cayenne pepper.  It is refreshing yet spicy, and it paired very well with the cured meats Justin had prepared.”

Antipasto
House cured meats (lomo and French style sopressata), pickles, farmstead cheeses

Laying Down the Broom

“The lemon from the dessert fit very well with the cassis (Black Currant) and the honey from the cocktail.  I used Gekkeikan Sake & Plum wine, Barenjager Honey liquor, basil syrup, fresh lemon and cassis juice.  Its light, refreshing taste complemented the tartness of the dessert.”

Pistachio Nougat
Lemon curd, white chocolate ganache, rhubarb gelee, balsamic-vanilla sabayone

The meal ended with a bang! The dessert was like a firework, both for its color and explosion of sharp, contrasting flavors.

What Spencer Learned In The South…

And a very special finale…BOURBONS!

I wish I could say I sampled them all. Why didn’t I sample them all?!?

PS: Thanks to everyone who made this Sunday deliciously different from the rest…

Special thanks to Justin Severino and Spencer Warren for collaborating and creating a memorable, palate-teasing Sunday supper.

A very special thanks to Adam Milliron for thinking, “Who is passionate about slow foods and artisan cocktails and would appreciate this experience?” and more importantly for answering that question with my name and my special one’s name!

Special thanks to our dining partners for putting up with the fact that Adam and I like taking pictures…of EVERYTHING.  You were a patient pair, and we appreciated your willingness to stare at food, wide eyed and salivating, as we tried to capture the perfect shots.  You are gems!

Cure on Foodio54

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Third Time’s A Charm: The Kinfolk Dinner Series

May 2012

Once upon an internet stroll, I happened upon a beautiful, blossoming endeavor entitled Kinfolk.  Beneath a video that admittedly moves my overly sentimental side to watery eyes, was a manifesto that spoke straight to my sensibilities:

Kinfolk is a growing community of artists with a shared interest in small gatherings. We recognize that there is something about a table shared by friends, not just a wedding or once-a-year holiday extravaganza, that anchors our relationships and energizes us…. Kinfolk is the marriage of our appreciation for art and design and our love for spending time with family and friends.

Thus, I made a habit of regularly visiting the pages of Kinfolk.  What impressed me beyond the refined design and the enviable places and products (and they are enviable!), was the way the site seemed to preserve  meaningful moments in time.  Reading Kinfolk feels like a quiet visit to a memory.  

Beyond the awe inspiring posts and publications, Kinfolk began a dinner series tour! When I noticed Philadelphia on the list of cities in the tour, at Terrain specifically, my mind began whirling. Before I knew it, my finger was clicking the option to enter the lottery for tickets. Fortunately, whimsy and practicality worked in a harmony entitled Memorial Day Weekend!

This harmony almost did not come to beautiful, burlap accented fruition. The lottery for dinner tickets did not favor me, but the Monday before the dinner, I received an uplifting email.  Due to a few cancellations, there was room for me and my guest should I still want to attend. Should I still want to attend?!?  Of course I did!

Beyond the excitement of taking part in a Kinfolk dinner, I was especially thrilled with the choice of location.  This marked my third attempt to eat at Terrain.  Please excuse what will surely sound like the “woe is me” ramblings of first world problems when I say my first attempt to visit Terrain (not just Terrain but a craft beer and local honey festival!!!) was thwarted by the heavy rains of a passing hurricane (on the up side, I prepared this meal for my friends, and they’re still talking about it!).  On the second attempt, I took my good old time meandering through the store then joined my place in line to be seated.  As my turn came, I looked at the hostess hopefully, and she announced my second failure- they were no longer taking names.  Hence, attempt number two was a beautiful fail. As I arrived at Terrain, yet again, the other two fails felt purposeful, as if they had led me to this third time, the beautiful, enchanting charm!

And oh, was it charming!

If you, like me, associated Pennsylvania wines with the taste of communion, then you, like me, will be thrilled to discover a wine that proves us wrong.  From what I gather, what distinguishes Galer wines is the intentional choice of which exceptional grapes are suited for PA soils versus existing PA grape varieties turned into wine. Dr. Galer also sought experts in the field of viticulture when he began his endeavor, which you can read about here.

To Start

Flower Pot Bread:  tarragon honey butter, smoked sea salt

Mixed Field Greens:  sliced radishes, wild strawberries, toasted almonds, micro basil, balsamic vinaigrette

Main

Rosemary Honey Mustard Leg of Lamb

Quinoa:  sugar snap peas, baby carrots, english peas, pea tendrils

Kennett Square Mushroom Skillet:  wild mushrooms, organic eggs

Sauteed Lancaster County Vegetables:  Fiddlehead ferns, garlic scapes, dwarf bok choy

Sweets

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

Pecan Pie

To see the beautiful menu in its full glory, click here.  The design came all the way from a talented artist in the Netherlands named Anja Mulder.

Even the napkins added a clean and rustic touch, so I adorned my lap very proper like.

Do you spy the brilliant idea in the photo on the right?  I shall soon try my hand at gardening little pots of soft, fluffy and slightly sweet bread.  Beyond the brilliance of the idea, the bread was one of the most delicious breads I have ever sampled (and I have sampled quite an array of breads!).

One benefit of eating with foodies and photo fiends is the patience given to the documentation of beautiful meals.  These weren’t just any foodies either!  I’ve been a fan of Something’s Hiding in Here ever since I saw the tour of Shauna and Stephen’s Philadelphia loft, so meeting the incredibly enthusiastic and humble couple was much like a celebrity encounter for this dorky blog reader.

Sitting directly to my right was Sullivan Owen, who had adorned the Terrain barn with her floral designs.  Aside from being very friendly and talented, Sullivan offered me lots of business inspiration!  I hope to spend more time learning from Sullivan in the future, and if that time is accented by one of her stunning arrangements, all the better!

That wasn’t all!  Across the table were Andrew and Carissa, the lovely couple behind many a Kinfolk video, specifically the Manifesto video that drew me to Kinfolk in the first place!  I can’t wait to see what they culled from this dream dinner.

Quite the plate!  My favorite main was the Kennet Square Mushroom Skillet. The mushrooms were quite meaty!

One might expect the coffee to be prepared with utmost care at a dinner focused on bringing people together, and one would be right.  Two Rachels served coffee prepared specially for each and every coffee partaker.

They even sent us on our merry ways with a creatively packaged single brew sample.

Additionally, Sullivan offered her floral displays as a generous token of her talents, and the very stylish farmers of Happy Cat Farm bestowed organic tomato plants upon us and an extra pack of seeds in the little totes on a big mission from Nest.  The night just continued to impress!

It was a beautiful dream dinner, and I was so grateful to be a part of it!  My third attempt at Terrain was beyond a charm. Kinfolk shared their own account of the night through the multiple lenses of this talented and personable photographer. I love how dark and saturated Parker’s images are, and I was especially excited to see this photo made the cut.  ;)

Here’s hopin’ many of us cross paths again!

My Special One’s Birthday: Maple Mousse Pie

April 2012

Birthdays may call for cake, but this maple mousse pie was worthy of trumping traditions (plus my special one and I have a shared maple memory).  The salty pecan crust pairs perfectly with the fluffy, frozen, maple, mousse layer, but I was also tempted to snag extra bites of crust to savor its flavor solo.  Top it all with a blueberry and cherry port wine sauce, and… birthday cake shmirthday shmake.  Pie please!

When I was little, I saw everything prior to and following the moment of eating as a chore. What I see now is an old man at sea…that is to say… the kitchen is a wonderfully creative place where our best intentions transform into something memorable for the special people in our lives.  I am beginning to understand why my mother spent so much time preparing the many memories I cherish.

Maple Mousse Pie w/ Port Wine Berry Sauce
Adpated from Food & Wine

Crust Ingredients

2 cups pecans
3 Tablespoons organic light brown sugar
⅛ teaspoon nutmeg
Pinch of salt
4 Tablespoons organic unsalted butter, browned
1 teaspoon organic almond extract

Mousse Ingredients

1 cup pure grade B maple syrup
2 large egg whites (local/free-range), at room temperature
Pinch of cream of tartar
Pinch of salt
1 ½ cups chilled organic heavy cream
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Port Wine Berry Sauce Ingredients

1 cup organic brown sugar
1 cup port wine
10 oz frozen organic cherries, thawed
12 oz fresh blueberries

For the Crust

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Spread the pecans on a rimmed baking stone, and bake for about 8 minutes, until fragrant. Let cool completely.

In a food processor, pulse the pecans, brown sugar, nutmeg, salt and almond extract until the nuts are finely chopped.

Add the butter, and pulse to incorporate.

Press the crumbs into a 9-inch springform pan in an even layer.

Refrigerate until firm.

For the Mousse

In a medium saucepan, bring the maple syrup to a boil. Simmer over moderate heat until slightly reduced and a candy thermometer inserted in the syrup registers 235 degrees, about 8 minutes, being careful not to let it boil over.

For the meringue: In a mixing bowl, use an electric mixer to beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar and salt until firm peaks form. Slowly add the maple syrup, while continuing to mix at a medium speed, until incorporated. Increase the speed to high, and beat the meringue until cooled to room temperature, about 5 minutes.

For the Whipped Cream: In a large bowl, beat the heavy cream with the vanilla until soft peaks form.

Fold the meringue into the whipped cream until blended.

Scrape the mousse onto the crust, and spread evenly.

Freeze until firm, at least 8 hours but preferably overnight (the mousse will not freeze solid like ice cream).

For the Sauce

Combine the port wine and brown sugar in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil.

Reduce heat, and continue to simmer until sauce has slightly thickened and reduced.

Remove the saucepan from heat. Add the berries.

Keep refrigerated until use.

Quite a regal looking birthday dessert! Stay tuned, and I’ll show you some more ways to use that boozy berry sauce.

Header_Finest-Bourbon

My Special One’s Birthday: Simple Syrup for Birthday Bourbons

April 2012

April marked another year in my special one’s life, but it also marked the start of a new chapter.  Shortly before his birthday, Jono signed his offer letter, thus accepting an important position at a company that will one day change the world!  The entire world!  It’s also the company that brought us together!  What is that company?  I leave you in suspense.  I spend 40+ hours a week talking about it, whereas, I do not spend nearly enough time talking about whiskey…

Ok…a tad more about my work… part of my job, at the mysterious company, is to make sure the movers and shakers enjoy their jobs, their spaces, represent our values, etc.  A whirlwind brought me into this atypical line of work, and though it’s not my dream job (still figuring out what my dream job is), it’s an amazing opportunity to be a part of something epic!  One of the most inspiring aspects of my day job is being surrounded by passionate, smart people who really, truly love what they are doing.  My special one loves what he is doing, and he worked really hard to get there.  He chalks a lot of his early success up to luck, but I give the credit to that big brain of his.  His foresight and dedication have served him well, and for that I offered a bourbon from the big leagues.  I also offered a silly little bottle ‘o Beam that he may stay humble, stay driven and stay crazy!

I do hope girlfriend privileges will merit a taste of that fancy jockey’s reserve, but for the birthday festivity, I stuck to my own supply.  For a sweet and peppery birthday cocktail, I infused a few extra flavors into a simple syrup.

Simple Syrup for Birthday Bourbons

1 cup water
1 cup turbinado sugar

Fresh blueberries, sliced
Pink Peppercorns
Fresh mint
A drizzle or so of pure maple syrup

Bring 2 cups of cold water to a boil. Stir in 2 cups of turbinado sugar. Turn the heat to low and stir constantly until the sugar dissolves completely.

Remove from heat and add your infusions.  Keep refrigerated until ready to use.

Suggested serving:  Bourbon + bitters + simple syrup (on the rocks)

Bon Anniversaire Mon Amour et Santé!