Tag Archives: Bourbon

Peach ‘n Bourbon Pancakes: Goodbye Special One. Hello Little One!

June 2013

Email. Cell phones. Facebook. Twitter. Imagine disconnecting from all of it! A friend of mine just spent a month in rural Germany doing just that. With a fresh notebook in tow, her goal in travel was to work through the baggage of her past, but when she sat to write, her pen was heavy and stationary. Day after day, she tried, but no words would saturate the paper. She was surrounded by beautiful German farmlands, eating fresh food and engaging with kindred spirits. Why stir the waters and tarnish the placid lake?

Just the Pancakes

Feeling as though she had abandoned the intentions of her retreat, she spoke with a German therapist. “Of course the American therapists told you to analyze the past, but why? Why make yourself miserable?” she pushed. “Why not move forward? If those issues from the past arise, deal with them then, when you are healthier, happier and better equipped. Enjoy all the beauty surrounding you now!”

Pancakes and Bourbon

It was as though she had carried those words across the Atlantic just for me! Nearly one month ago, my Special One said the words I never thought I would hear him say, “I’m not ready for ‘this,’” and with that utterance, he left my life. “This” to me was the deepest of friendship and a wholehearted love, so I was devastated. I debated diving into what “this” meant with him, but then I heard the words from Germany, and I knew to move forward. Why dredge up muck and misery when I had truly given my all?

Peach Top

The transatlantic message wasn’t advising me to bury emotions. I will still feel heartbroken, and I will still cry on occasion. I can embrace those emotions, but I won’t seek more sadness. This blog is a collection of snapshots of my life. This isn’t meant to be a passive aggressive jab. This is but another snapshot, another segue. As is usually case, these experiences overlap with meals and memories. He was my batter flipper, but the time has come for me to hone my pancake skills myself. I’m improving because I am moving forward and focusing on joys like this one…

Introducing-Julep

Though I said farewell to my Special One, I welcomed home my Little One at long last! My search for a puppy had felt endless and impossible, but she was exactly the one for me. My little Julep was born on an Amish farm on Earth Day, making us earthy kindred spirits born in conservative places. My precious Australian Shepherd/Lab is smart and loving. Her little puppy eyes could melt your heart, pushing me straight over the cusp from sanity to crazy dog lady. Bringing Julep into my life was one of my best decisions to date, and she is definitely helping me move forward. She is just helping me move in general! Puppies have lots of energy, but they also nap quite a bit. In one of those Julep naps, I managed to whip up these southern/Julep inspired pancakes for me, myself and I!

Boubony Whipped Cream

Peach ‘n Bourbon Buckwheat Pancakes w/ Minty Whipped Cream
Makes 7-8, 4-inch pancakes

Ingredients

Butter for coating the pan

3/4 cups buckwheat flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 large, organic egg
1 cup Organic Valley French Vanilla Half & Half (I found this to be too sweet for my morning brew, but I love it in pancakes)
1/2 teaspoon pure almond extract

1 small peach, cut into small chunks
1/4 cup pecans, chopped

Directions

Whisk together the flour, salt and baking soda in a large bowl.

Pour the olive oil over the dry ingredients, and stir to combine.

Add the egg, half & half and almond extract. Stir only until everything is combined. Do not overmix. A few lumps are fine.

Fold in the peaches and pecans.

Heat a well-seasoned griddle or cast iron skillet on medium heat.

Put a small amount (a half teaspoon) of butter on the pan or griddle and spread it around to coat.

Ladle the batter onto the hot surface to the desired size, about 4-5 inches wide. (A 1/4 cup measure will ladle about a 4-inch pancake.) Reduce the heat to medium-low. Allow the pancake to cook for 2-3 minutes on this first side. Watch for bubbles on the surface of the pancake.

When air bubbles start to rise to the surface at the center of the pancake, flip the pancake. Cook for another 1-2 minutes, or until nicely browned.

Keep your pancakes warm on a rack in the oven set on “warm,” or stack them on a plate and cover with a towel as you make more.

Serve with fresh peach slices and a big dollop o’ minty whipped cream.

Minty Whipped Cream

Ingredients 

1 cup local heavy whipping cream
2-3 Tablespoons mint simple syrup (made with pure cane sugar), to taste

2-3 Tablespoons bourbon, to taste

Directions

Combine whipping cream and simple syrup in a chilled bowl. Use an electric mixer (with chilled mixer attachments) to beat on medium speed until soft peaks form. Add the bourbon, and continue to beat until stiffer peaks form. Do not overbeat, or you’ll end up with butter, which would be tasty, but not the idea here.

Bon Appétit!

Brown Butter Strawberry Bourbon Cake for a Birthday!

April 2013

My Special One’s mom gave him some good advice for a nutritious life- half of your plate should be fruits and vegetables, which it seems, is why dessert is usually served on a separate plate!

Cake Plus Bourbon Drizzle

April is the month of my health-conscious, Special One’s birthday. The more elaborate plans were slated for a birthday observed date, but I couldn’t let his actual day pass without a little token of birthday cake, and the least I could do was stir in a good portion of fruit! I also thought I owed him some bourbon!

Bourbon Drizzled Cake

I would recommend this denser, honey-sweetened cake as a breakfast slice, since it’s close to a sweet bread, but that idea depends on your a.m. bourbon habits. Either way, this is a slice best served warm with a dollop of whipped cream or vanilla bean ice cream! For an extra bourbony drizzle, I whisked together a spoonful or two of Trader Joe’s Fleur de Sel caramel sauce and a healthy drop of Wild Turkey bourbon.

Brown Butter Strawberry Bourbon Cake
makes one 8-inch round cake
Recipe adapted from Roost

Ingredients

4 Tablespoons butter

2/3 cup almond flour
1 cup whole-wheat pastry flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

2 Tablespoons local honey
3 organic eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon pure almond extract

1/2 cup organic strawberries, quartered (about 4-5 med/lg strawberries)
1/4-1/2 cup roasted, salted almonds, chopped

1/8 cup bourbon (Wild Turkey)

Directions

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease an 8-inch round cake pan.

Melt butter in a small pan over medium/low heat until browned and fragrant.

Set aside. Whisk together the flours, salt and baking soda until combined.

Add honey, eggs, vanilla, almond extract and brown butter.

Use a spatula or mixer to blend until smooth.

Pour mixture into a bowl and fold in quartered strawberries. Pour batter into prepared cake pan.

Top with chopped almonds. Add strawberry garnish.

Bake for 35-40 minutes, until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Remove the oven to a cooling rack.

Poke holes throughout the top of the cake with a skewer. Pour the bourbon over the cake.

Bourbon Blondies for Battles

March 2013

The world can be deliciously small if you make it so. This lesson was reiterated to me via the enormous scope of Twitter. My ever talented, tweeting pal, Johnny Battlesgraced my mailbox with his Sweeteeth chocolate wonders. Receiving snail mail is a welcomed surprise. Receiving a box full of chocolate makes you feel like this kid.

Dear Sir Battles

In a very poor display of promptness, I took my sweet time in putting together a return package of sweets. It may have taken a New Year’s resolution to send more snail mail and a week in between an old job and a new job, but I finally, finally, finally put the US Postal system to work!

Bourbon Blondies for Battles

Johnny Battles is a gentleman of the south, so a splash or bourbon was in order a la bourbon blondies.

Cut The Mustaches

Taking that southern gent idea one step further, and one or two dips in dark chocolate later…

Mustache Stacks

Bourbon blondie mustaches!

From WTG

I may have snagged one for my own antics…

Mustache Twins

So here’s to you, Johnny! For your creative chocolate titles and chocolate mail mastery, two thumbs up (with at least one of those thumbs holding up a ‘stache)!

This Side Up

To make your own mustaches, follow this recipe with the bourbon of your choice (1792 in this case), cut creatively and then dip in melted chocolate.

Homemade Whole-Wheat Maple & Apple Pop Tarts

March 2013

Why did I make my own poptarts?

a. I have a friend who likes all natural, maple pop tarts, and as a baker, I felt I owed her my own version.
b. I’m a control freak, and even the “natural” poptarts probably have some extra ingredients I could do without.
c. Leftovers are an excuse to eat pie for breakfast!
d. All of the above.

Maple Pop Tarts

All of the above indeed!

Pop Tarts Cooling

Maple & Apple-Cinnamon Pop Tarts
Makes 6 

Dough Ingredients

2 cups whole-wheat pastry flour
1 Tablespoon pure cane sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon fine salt

2 sticks (8 ounces) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

2 large egg yolks
1/4 cup whole milk
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Apple-Cinnamon Filling Ingredients

2 medium apples, such as Pink Lady or Gala, cored and peeled
4 Tablespoons packed organic dark brown sugar
3 Tablespoons pure maple syrup
2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice (Meyer Lemon)
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Dash of ground nutmeg
2 pinches fine salt

Assembly Ingredients

Flour, for rolling the dough
1 large egg
1 teaspoon water

For the Dough

Whisk the flour, sugar, cinnamon, and salt in a large bowl until combined.

Add the butter and toss with your fingers until well coated in the flour mixture. Using a pastry blender or your fingers, cut or rub the butter into the dry ingredients until reduced to pea-size pieces.

Whisk the egg yolks, milk and vanilla in a small bowl until combined.

Add the egg-milk mixture to the flour mixture and mix with your hands until large clumps form.

Turn the mixture out onto a work surface and knead briefly, smearing the butter into the dough with the heel of your palm until the dough completely comes together, about 1 minute.

Divide the dough into 2 equal portions and shape into 2 (6-by-5-inch) rectangles. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

Meanwhile, make the filling.

For the Apple-Cinnamon Filling

Cut the apples into 1/4-inch-thick slices and again into 1/4-inch pieces.

Combine all the ingredients in a medium frying pan over medium heat.

Cook, stirring, until the sugar has dissolved and the apple juices begin to release, about 5 minutes.

Continue cooking until the apples just begin to soften, about 3 minutes more.

Remove the pan from heat.

Set a mesh strainer over a medium heatproof bowl and transfer the apples and all of the juices to the strainer; set aside to cool.

Meanwhile, roll out the dough.

To Assemble the Tarts

Heat the oven to 375°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper; set aside.

Lightly dust a work surface with flour and roll 1 dough portion out into a rough 12-by-10-inch rectangle, rotating the dough and re-flouring the surface and rolling pin often to prevent the dough from sticking.

Using a pie dough cutter or a sharp knife, trim the dough to a 10-1/2-by-9-inch rectangle.

Cut that into 6 equal rectangles (each about 3 1/2 inches wide by 4 1/2 inches tall).

Using a flat spatula, transfer the rectangles to the prepared baking sheet, leaving about 2 inches of space between each.

Whisk the egg and water in a small bowl until evenly combined; set aside.

Roll out the second dough portion to the same dimensions as the first, trim, and cut into 6 rectangles. Using a fork, prick the dough all over.

Transfer 2 Tablespoons of the cooled apple juices to a medium bowl and set aside for the *glaze (recipe below); set the remaining juices aside.

Remove the baking sheet from the refrigerator and brush a thin coating of the egg wash over each dough rectangle.

Spoon about 1 heaping T ablespoon of the apple filling onto each rectangle and spread it into an even layer, leaving a 3/4-inch border.

Top each rectangle with 1 1/2 teaspoons of the remaining apple juices.

Place the pricked rectangles on top of the apple-covered rectangles.

Press on the edges to adhere, and push down gently on the filling to slightly flatten.

Using a fork dipped in flour, crimp the edges of the tarts.

Bake until golden brown, about 23 to 25 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely before glazing.

Maple Bourbon Glaze

Ingredients 

2 Tablespoons apple juice reserve
1 cup organic confectioner’s sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 teaspoons water
2 Tablespoons Grade B Maple Syrup
2 Tablespoons Bourbon

Directions for Maple Bourbon Glaze

In a bowl add the sugar, vanilla, water, maple syrup and bourbon.

Whisk until there are no lumps. Set aside.

Citrus & Bourbon French Toast For A Brunch With Acadia

March 2013

We met over drafting boards, and we toiled over models. That was architecture school, and that was then.

Blood Orange Table Setting

This was now. This was brunch!

Cheers

We still had plenty of creative scheming to do, but with the focus on French toast, this scheming was far less stressful than the good ol’ architecture days.

Recipe for individual egg bakes pictured above will follow in a subsequent post.

Orange Apricot French Toast

Citrus & Bourbon French Toast

Ingredients 

4 Challah or brioche rolls (or 1 loaf) in 1-inch slices
orange honey butter (recipe below)
1 package (8oz) organic cream cheese
1/2 cup roasted, salted almonds, chopped
1 cup dried apricots, sliced

1/2 cup bourbon
3 cups organic whole milk
3 organic eggs
2 Tablespoons organic brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt

Directions

Generously grease a 9 x 13-inch baking dish with unsalted butter.

Arrange bread in a tightly-packed layer in the pan, using smaller chunks to fill in any gaps.

Spread the orange honey-butter over the bread. Follow with a layer of cream cheese.

Disperse the sliced apricots evenly over the cream cheese.

Add the final layer of bread slices, again filling in any gaps with smaller chunks.

Drizzle the bourbon over the top bread layer.

Whisk milk, eggs, sugar and salt and pour over the bread.

Sprinkle the chopped almonds over the surface.

Wrap tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight in order for the bread to absorb the liquid.

Bake at 425°F for 30-40 minutes, or until puffed and golden.

Cut into generous squares and serve with maple syrup and bourbon whipped cream.

Slice of Apricot Orange French Toast

Orange Honey Butter 

Ingredients

1/2 cup packed organic light brown sugar
3/4 cup orange zest (from about 4-5 oranges)

1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups honey
1 teaspoon pure orange extract
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Directions 

Use a mixer to beat softened butter, brown sugar, and zest in a bowl.

Add salt, honey, and extracts; beat until smooth, about 2 minutes.

*******************************************************************************

Bourbon Whipped Cream

Ingredients

1 cup organic heavy cream
1 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 Tablespoon maple syrup
3-4 Tablespoons Bourbon, to taste

Directions

In a chilled bowl, use chilled mixers to beat the heavy cream until soft peaks begin to form. Add the vanilla, maple syrup and bourbon and continue to beat just until incorporated. Keep chilled until ready to serve.

An Ode To A Cabin In Autumn: Cookie Cups & Cartwheels

September 2012

When is the last time you really went outside and played?

When is the last time you flew through the trees?

When is the last time you ran like a fool? When is the last time you did a cartwheel?

There’s something about being at the special cabin in the woods that simplifies fun. Maybe it’s because we’re removed from typical routines or because no one is watching, or maybe because we’re just plain weird [magical]? Whatever the impetus, there we were playing outside, laughing and seeing the world from all angles. It took me back to a time when fitness was just an afternoon spent outside with friends.

Perhaps it was all the play that incited my craving for cookies. Perhaps I was transported to the time when I’d run inside with numb fingers and find a kitchen table covered in warm, fresh, gooey, chocolate-chip cookies.

One of the advantages of being a baking adult is I can make cookies when the craving hits. This time I was inspired by the ol’ cupcake form. Another advantage of being a baking adult is I can also be inspired by bourbon!

Bourbon, Cranberry & Pecan Cookie Cups
Makes 20 cookie cups

Ingredients

3/4 cup raw cane sugar
3/4 cup organic packed brown sugar
dash of nutmeg
1 cup organic, unsalted butter, browned
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon pure almond extract
3 Tablespoons bourbon
1 egg (local/free-range)

2 1/4 cups whole-wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup toasted pecans, coarsely chopped (leaving a handful whole for garnishing)
1 package (12 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips (2 cups)
1/2 cup organic dried cranberries

Directions

Heat oven to 375ºF. Line a cupcake pan with natural parchment liners.

Mix sugars, nutmeg, butter, extracts, bourbon and egg in large bowl.

In a separate bowl, whisk the flour, baking soda and salt. Add the dry mixture to the egg mixture.

Stir in nuts, cranberries and chocolate chips.

Drop dough by rounded tablespoonfuls into lined cupcake pan.

Bake 15-20 minutes or until light brown.

Cool on wire rack, and go play!

weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

An Ode to a Cabin in Autumn: Pumpkin Waffles

September 2012

A humble poem for a magical cabin…

When I was a child,
I dreamed of fall,
The way I wanted it to be,
With firesides, fresh warm cakes
And mugs of steaming tea.

Then I met my special one
Who took me to his special place,
The place he loved from deep within,
And when he took me there,
My love of fall would truly begin.

Behind the grains of wood,
There’s a hush interrupted
By the crackle of a flame.
As the creek flows quietly,
This place remains not the same.

The hills are a palette in flux.
The window a canvas
Of an ever changing view.
With neither tool nor toil,
Each season builds this house anew.

From blankets of white,
To a scarcity of greens,
To shimmering willows filling the skies,
His place is a portrait,
With many a disguise.

One day, an older me,
Will sit and dream of fall,
The way it was there,
With firesides, fresh warm cakes
And the love between that pair.

I first met my special one’s cabin in the winter, and each visit has been a response to the season and a new experience. Though I loved swimming in the creek, fall might be my favorite! The combination of lingering summer breezes and fall flavors is so fleeting, but the cabin offers the perfect embrace of this transition, especially at the brunching hour.

Whole-Wheat Cranberry Pumpkin Waffles
w/ Caramelized Pears & Bourbon Whipped Cream

Ingredients

2 1/2 cups whole-wheat pastry flour
1/3 cup packed organic light brown sugar
2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon fresh grated ginger
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

4 large eggs (local/free-range), separated
2 cups organic buttermilk, well-shaken
1 cup canned organic pumpkin pie filling (you could use regular pumpkin puree)
1 stick (8 tablespoons) organic unsalted butter, browned

1 cup organic dried cranberries, soaked in bourbon

Melted Butter for brushing waffle iron

Directions

Preheat waffle iron.

Whisk flour, brown sugar, baking powder and soda, salt, and spices in a mixing bowl.

In a separate bowl, whisk egg yolks with buttermilk, pumpkin, and browned butter until smooth.

Whisk in dry ingredients until just combined.

Drain and reserve the bourbon from the cranberries. Fold in the cranberries.

In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites until they hold soft peaks.

Fold them gently into the waffle batter, until just combined.

Brush waffle iron lightly with oil and spoon batter into waffle iron, spreading quickly.

Cook according to waffle iron maker’s instructions.

Transfer waffles to rack in oven to keep warm and crisp. Repeat with the rest of the batter.

Serve with cooked pears, toasted pecans and bourbon whipped cream.

Bourbon Whipped Cream

Ingredients 

1 cup organic heavy whipping cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 Tablespoons maple syrup
Dash of cinnamon
2 Tablespoons bourbon (use the bourbon reserved from the dried cranberries)

Directions

Combine everything except the bourbon in a medium-sized mixing bowl. Use an electric mixer to beat until peaks form. Add the bourbon and continue to mix until combined.

Caramelized Pears

Ingredients

2-3 Tablespoons organic, unsalted butter
2 red pears, sliced
remaining bourbon from cranberries
1-2 Tablespoons organic brown sugar, to taste
cinnamon

Directions

Heat butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Once melted, add the sliced pears and brown sugar. Dash with cinnamon, and stir occasionally until tender. Add the bourbon, and let the liquid reduce slightly. Remove from heat. Serve warm on waffles.

Ice Cream Sammies & Self-Sufficiency

July 2012

I’m not a person who likes to take things apart in order to understand them and then put them back together again. I’m not a fixer-upper. I would never describe myself as “handy.” However, when I have a craving for a really rich, chocolaty ice cream sandwich at the height of a summer’s heat spell, I can be quite self-sufficient, and of that, I am proud!

“Self-sufficient” is not to say I eat the entire tower o’ ice cream sammy by myself. That would just be self-destruction, at least in the temporary, oh-god-whhhhy-am-I-so-full sense of self-destruction.

Chocolate, Chocolate-Chip Cookies

Note: I used about 3/4 of this batter in a 9×13 inch glass pan, which yielded more of a brownie, from which I could cut the circles to hold the heaping scoops of organic, mint, chocolate-chip ice cream. I used the remaining batter to make a stone pan’s worth of cookies. The sizing is flexible, but keep an eye on the oven to avoid a sad, burned catastrophe.

Ingredients

~1/2 lb dark chocolate (El Rey Bucare Bittersweet 58% Cocoa)

2 2/3 cups whole-wheat pastry flour
1/4 cup pure cocoa
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt

1 cup (2 sticks) organic unsalted butter, softened
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup turbinado sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 Tablespoons bourbon

3 large eggs (local/free-range)

1 cup roasted, salted almonds, chopped
2 cups organic semi-sweet chocolate chips

Directions

Preheat oven to 375° F.

Melt dark chocolate using a Maria bath; stir until smooth. Remove from heat and set aside.

Combine flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt in medium bowl.

In a separat mixing bowl, beat butter, brown sugar, turbinado sugar, vanilla extract and bourbon.

Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.

Beat in melted chocolate.

Gradually beat in flour mixture.

Stir in almonds and 2 cups chocolate chips.

Drop by rounded tablespoon onto ungreased baking sheets.

Bake for 10 to 15 minutes or until cookies are puffed.

Cool on baking sheets for 2 minutes; remove to wire racks to cool completely.

Enjoy!

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

Pork-n-Pone

A Spot of Hillbilly Tea

June 2012

The weekend had been a Bonnaroo whirlwind, but the Sunday morning raindrops over Manchester, Tennessee fields, put us on the road earlier than we intended.  We may have missed some Bonnaroo shows as a result, but foregoing rainy concerts meant more time for lunch along the way.  Thanks to Nicole, we decided upon a quaint patch of Louisville, Kentucky called Hillbilly Tea.

“At its core Hillbilly Tea is an Appalachian themed “Tea Café”, which offers a variety of fresh organic whole leaf teas and boast a full menu of wholesome mountain inspired comfort foods.”

From my first peek through the door, I knew we had made the right decision.  There was an abundance of brick, rustic wood, old metal and mason jars.  On top of the visual welcome, our waiter was brimming with positivity and personality.  We all exchanged Bonnaroo stories and a few traveling tales before even discussing the menu.  I told the waiter I was ready to move into the space, and his enthusiasm for the place just beamed.  It was so apparent he genuinely adored the cafe, and it made an amazing cafe all the more memorable!

pork & pone
w/ garlic mayo red cabbage chow chow & choice of side

Sweet, tangy, tender chunks of pork atop slightly sweet and spongey corn pone…

…very quickly became a picked over plate!

Duck Burger
w/ house bacon, caramelized onions, greens & cheese

Additionally there was a cakey biscuit with local honey, smokey greens that taught me how proper southern greens can really steal the show, sweet potatoes and endless mason jars of Nettle tea from the Hillbilly farm outside of town.

Our charismatic waiter said “dessert,” and I was going to pass, but he kept talking, and when he did, he uttered the words “bourbon bread pudding.”  We ordered it without hesitation.  We did it for us, and we did it for Nicole, knowing she would surely be on her way to some celestial paradise if she could have taken just one bight of the warm caramel-topped bread chunks with a meringue topping and BURSTS of bourbon flavor!  Our charismatic waiter also suggested a hot tea pairing similar to a chai but made with a smoky black tea, milk and sorghum syrup.  It was the type of tea that conjures views of bluish-green hills shrouded in low, dewey clouds, when time is timeless and the quiet is invigorating.  It was an entire scene of calming respite in a sip of smokey tea.

I could have stayed there all day, just sipping tea and enjoying the waiter entertain each table with his happy attitude, wild gingery beard and blonde hair.  I could have, but alas I, for some reason, continued on the journey toward home.

Talula’s Garden

May 2012

When in Philly, two lovelies rank highly on my list of friends to visit, and brunch ranks highly on our collective list of what to do when we gather.  On this particularly pleasant Sunday, we found an enchanting garden offering delectables to suit our fancy.

Talula’s Garden
210 W Washington Sq
Philadelphia, PA 19106
Neighborhoods: Washington Square West, Market East

Those warm colors on that rustic wood, the iron and ivy blocking the city while offering glimpses into the magical garden…we had arrived, and I fell in love with Talula’s Garden almost immediately after stepping beyond the front gate. I didn’t know it again, but Philly Restaurant Emperor Steven Starr had lured me in again!

At first there were just colors, but there were so many more rustic charms to discover.

Ordering from the cocktail menu became a very delicious and tipsy game of “What Does Your Drink Say About You?”

Though not at all “outdoorsy,” Heather has been known to head to sunnier regions like Atlantic City (where the sun reflects off gamblin’ money) or Jamaica most recently.  She is most comfortable in a sundress, beams in bright colors, sees the sweeter side of scenarios and always welcomes a bit of bubbly.  If Heather were a cocktail in Talula’s Garden, she’d be…

The Suncatcher 
“Champagne” Cocktail…Bubbles, Strawberry, and Fresh Mint

Quelcy [yours truly] fell in love with the oak barrel, gun slingin’ flavors of bourbon while road tripping through the American south, en route to the outdoor musical festival known to Jesus-sandle-wearing free spirits as “Bonnaroo.”  Though free of her dreaded locks, this full timer is no suit.  Put on her a fast train to a big city, and she’ll be a happy urban hippy.    If Quelcy were a cocktail in Talula’s Garden, she’d be…

The Treehugger
Maple Manhattan… Rye Whiskey, Maple, and Black Walnut

Jess may be petite, but her personality packs a punch!  She’s spicy, feisty, and she’s all style.  She’s a little bit saucy and sassy, and she’s the cure for what ails you.  If Jess were growing behind the bar in Talula’s Garden, she’d be…

The Butcher [Jess]
Spicy Bloody… Tito’s Vodka and Fresh Horseradish

Little Sweet Ricotta Doughnuts, Apricot Jam, and Chocolate-Hazelnut Sauce

Even the waiter knew he was giving us something special as he offered the platter of donuts and its description.  There was pride and expectation in his voice. He was expecting us to be impressed by the flavorful and colorful contrasts at play, the dedication implied by “housemade nutella,” the burst of fresh blackberries and ultimately, the sweet doughy, slightly dense little donuts!  He was expecting a reaction, but more importantly, he deserved a reaction!  The baby donuts were, in fact, so delicious, the plate began to make a sad face as we finished them…

Maryland Crab “Benedict”, Poached Farm Fresh Eggs, Wilted Romaine, and Tomato-Chive Bearnaise

The toast round was nearly impossible to cut.  That was my only complaint, and it’s really difficult to complain when a mouth is savoring every aspect of an entree.  Even the potatoes were masterfully prepared- just lightly crisped.

Berkshire pork sausage patties with roasted apricot, garlic flowers and polenta

This was a special menu item for the morning.  I was quite sold at “Berkshire,” and then the beautiful garlic flowers and fruit accent arrived and dazzled my eye. The floral and fruit notes balanced with the extra spice of the sausage, and the polenta packed more cornmeal texture than the average heap o’ maize mush.

Whole Wheat Pancakes, Lancaster Maple, Sweet Cream Butter, Pecans, and Brûlée Banana

I kid you not when I posit these pancakes may have been the best pancakes I have eaten to date (don’t tell my mom because I really like her pancakes)!  To date!  The texture was so light and fluffy, especially for a whole-wheat pancake.  The inclusion of brûlée in the description was no misnomer.  The bananas and pecans had an extra sweet and crisp exterior, accented by the brown sugar crumble and sweet syrups served in adorably petite jam jars.

Crispy Truffle Scented Duck Confit and Potato Hash, Sunny Side Egg, Sweet Peas, and Duck Hollandaise

What a decadent way to start the morning- smoky, tender duck…I repeat… smoky, tender duck in drizzles of egg yolk accented by the crisp, fresh, sweet flavor of peas.

Apparently my Vietnamese companions were strictly raised to clean plates.  A national value? Jess whispered to me (so the waitress wouldn’t here?), “Quelcy, can you finish these pancakes? I literally can’t.”  Of course she couldn’t!  We had so much delicious food!  It just wasn’t necessary to eat every morsel.  Nor was I willing to be the sacrificial glutton, but I was obviously willing to flaunt their fullness.  Silly little friends.

The horse and carriage awaited should you desire a more romantic getaway after such a beautiful, bountiful brunch.

Not An Easy Glass To Fill: Bar Marco

May 2012

On a summery night, I had a hankerin’ for an adult root beer.  “What’s an adult root beer?” you ask? I’m ever so glad you asked because it’s one of my favorites! The adult cocktail is [roughly] a combination of Art in the Age Root and maybe a splash of bourbon and/or bitters, an ice cube specifically fashioned for fancy sippin’ and a curl of orange peel for additional flavor and aroma.  Now that you have those flavors in your mind, imagine biking on a hot, summery night and wanting just one more cocktail, just one specific cocktail- the adult root beer- to cap off the evening.

You’ve cycled joyfully to the corner that introduced you to this delightful adult version of a childhood delight, only to discover a closed sign. It’s not just a closed-for-the evening sign but the type of closed sign with an air of permanence. [I get a little choked up just typing about it.] This, my friends, was the tragic tale of the closing of The Embury, Pittsburgh’s first Prohibition style bar. However, the tragic tale has a happy ending! The Embury shall live again (and I shall surely have more to report on the bar that gave me Root).  In the meantime, I can say with sincerity (and despite my initial skepticism spurred by sadness), if The Embury had to go, I’m pleased with its replacement- Bar Marco.

From “Marco” directly…

Bar Marco serves simple but hearty foods sourced from local purveyors, with a focus on small production and natural wines along with craft cocktails. Located in the Strip District, one of Pittsburgh’s most unique neighborhoods!

Being the tree hugging brand of foodie I am, I was impressed with Bar Marco’s mission to focus on local ingredients. Being the design critic that I am, I would be remiss not to critique the window display. The hand painted window graphics made the place look unfinished. Conversely, the interior exemplified a great deal of consideration. The bar’s creators excavated the building to reveal its bright white bones and a light, open space. Even on a gray and rainy Sunday, the bar filled with light.

The bar features a contrast of industrial elements-stained wood, a sealed concrete floor, metal- with antique whites- the shiny brick tiles, the tin ceiling and the marble bar tops. They completely opened the interior from its past life, and the large, front window and wine bottle reflections illuminate what used to be subdivided and purposefully dark and brooding. They sold me on the refined interior.  As for the brunch…

If an aspect of alcoholism is a constant “craving” for alcohol, Bar Marco may soon be responsible for many alcoholics or at least my own imminent battle with the disease.  The root of this is the Bar Marco Manhattan (seen here in a long, tall, lovely shade of red-orange)- a combination of rye, carpano, aperol, angostura and “bubbles!” That’s right- bubbles! Champagne in a Manhattan?!?! Are you salivating and signing up for AA with me, or am I the only one? I doubt I’m the only one!

The other long tall lovely catching your eye was a Spicy Mango Bloody Mary made from vodka, mango and cilantro, and that was one spicy Mary!!! It was not a cocktail for the faint brunchers (myself included). Luckily, my dining companion is as feisty as they come at the early brunching hours, and she power sipped through the spiciness.

Lastly, that squat fella was an Aperol Spritz bursting with the citrus from fresh oranges.

Just to repeat though, try the BAR MARCO MANHATTAN! While you’re at it, buy one for me too!

Plantain Pancakes w/ Local Honey & Cinnamon Butter

I love a light and thin pancake, and the plantain element lent extra moisture to each bite.

Bone-in Pork Chop w/ Rhubarb Compote & Potato Pancake

Adding a fruit contrast to a pork chop is no secret, but rhubarb! What a splendid idea!

Those who know me, know how much I like to share at meals (even though Phil can recall a time when “family style” baffled me), which explains the multiple plates I am sharing in this post.  However, it is worth noting, Bar Marco’s servings are on the lighter side, a stance I support, but when sharing, it’s worth having a few more options than you might at your average Pittsburgh-portioned brunching nook.

Cranberry French Toast w/ Bourbon Maple Syrup

Bourbon maple syrup. French Toast. Why would I continue to type?

You did it, Bar Marco.  The Embury did not leave an easy glass to fill, but you impressed me with a refined design in both the menu and ambiance.  You convinced me! See you again very soon!

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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!

Lobster By Night/Lobster By Day

Lobster by Night
March 2012 

It had been a while since the two of us had gathered at my dining room table, so I proposed a date of the domestic sort.  As I began menu scheming, I turned to the stained and tattered pages of my trusted America’s Test Kitchen magazine, through which I have faithfully been working.  When I saw a lobster recipe with the words “lazy man” in the title, I found that weekend’s winner!

Yes, that is frozen lobster.  I love him (↓), and I love a special dinner, but I was in no way prepared to teach myself how to thwack a bright red, living thing with grabbers and claws! Sorry friends.  Not this time!  My other justification was this- if I am going to teach myself how to thwack a bright red, living thing with grabbers and claws, I’m not going to cut up the meat and bake it in a gratin.

The recipe had me with this opening description…

Lobster is a classic choice for an elegant dinner for two.  Most people boil or steam their crustaceans and serve them whole with a side of drawn butter.  While there’s nothing wrong with this simple, traditional approach, fumbling around with a cooked lobster, hammering down on shells and poking around for meat isn’t exactly a tidy affair.  I wanted a refined lobster dinner for a couple that delivered the sweet, rich flavor of lobster and didn’t require a bib to eat.  - Dan Zuccarello, America’s Test Kitchen Books

Lazy Man’s Lobster for Two (By Night)
Adapted from America’s Test Kitchen magazine

Filling

1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 shallot, minced
1 Tablespoon fresh thyme
Dash of cayenne pepper
4 teaspoons whole-wheat pastry flour
1/4 cup red wine (cabernet sauvignon)
8 oz vegetable broth
1/3 cup organic heavy cream
12 ounces lobster meat (frozen), chopped coarse
1 Tablespoon minced fresh sage
Yakima smoked salt
Pepper

Topping

1 slice high quality wheat bread
3 Tablespoons grated Pecorino Romano cheese
1 Tablespoon minced sage
1 teaspoon olive oil
1/8 teaspoon paprika

For the Filling

Heat the oil in a 10-inch skillet over medium heat until shimmering.

Add the shallot and cook until the shallot is softened, 2-3 minutes. Stir in the flour and cook for 30 seconds.

Stir in the red wine and simmer until it has nearly evaporated, about 2 minutes.

Stir in the thyme and cayenne.

Whisk in the broth and cream and simmer until the liquid has thickened and reduced to ¾ cup, 10-12 minutes.

Off the heat, add the cooked lobster meat and sage. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Divide the mixture evenly between two 2-cup gratin dishes (or similar baking dish).

For the Topping

Adjust an oven rack to the middle position, and heat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Pulse the bread in a food processor to coarse crumbs, about 10 pulses.

Combine the bread crumbs, the pecorino, sage, oil and paprika in a bowl.

Sprinkle the topping evenly over the gratins.

Bake until the sauce is bubbling and the topping is golden brown, about 15 minutes.

Let cool for 10 minutes before serving.

Salad

Goose Creek Farms Mizuna
2 champagne mangos, peeled, pitted and sliced
1 avocado, sliced
green peas

Dressing

Juice from 1 honey tangerine
1 Tbs. sesame oil
1/4c low sodium soy sauce
1/2 cup fresh lime juice
1Tbs. black sesame seeds

My own personal mixologist shook up one of my favorites:

Buffalo Trace bourbon
AITA Snap
Peychaud’s bitters
Dried cherries rehydrated with bourbon

Well, he actually shook up TWO of those for me!

Lobster by Day

The recipe said “Lazy Man’s Lobster For Two,” but that “two” would have to refer to two rather large and very hungry New Englanders as far as I can tell.  Accordingly, “two” for us meant two meals, and our leftovers  transformed into a delicious brunch!

Babies’ first ever poached eggs (a team effort in progress)…

Lazy Man’s Lobster For Two (By Day)

(from the bottom up)
Whole wheat bread, toasted
Speck
Cahill Irish Whiskey Cheese
Leftover Lazy Man’s Lobster (see recipe above)
Poached eggs (from local/free-range eggs)
Smoked black pepper

Leftovers are just new opportunities I say, so Happy Leftovers!

ps:  That’s some leftover Post Patty’s Brunch French Toast on the other side of the plate.  It was quite the morning in the dining room!

It’s Not Everyday (Bourbon Root Milkshake)

March 2012

It’s not every day a highway journey becomes a safari…

Nor is it every day you have the chance to spend all the afternoon long with someone special, lazily watching British comedy.  Both of those occurrence have merit in my book ["on my blog?"].  On those lazy British comedy days, we deserve a milkshake, and that milkshake should come with a kick!

He can now cross “slice ice cream container in two” off his life’s to do list.  Why that was on his list?!?  Not sure but congrats all the same.

Though I recommend our milkshake madness, I do not recommend our method (a kitchen mixer and an ice cream SPLATTER).  This experience taught me (and especially taught him), I need something like this minty beauty added to my kitchen collection.

Our special milkshake formula:

Häagen-Dazs Vanilla Ice Cream (we like our vanilla ice cream to be pure & simple)
A generous splash of Buffalo Trace Bourbon
A generous splash of Art in the Age Root
Organic whole milk

While you’re at it…

Break off a piece of specialty chocolate such as this A’Chocolypse bar with popping suga’ from my favorite chocolatier and yours, Sweeteeth Chocolate.  Add a chunk to the top of the milkshake (who needs a sickeningly sweet maraschino cherry anyway?!?) and eat some extra bites along the way too!

As the sun is shining more and more, it’s the perfect time for an adult milkshake!

Happy milkshake season (and highway safari-ing?!?)!

xoxo,

With The Grains

Waffles With A View & Ham ‘n Cheese Too (Cabin Weekend, Part III)

March 2012

When I think of the special cabin in the woods, I think of the lower cupboard with the pots, the pans and the waffle maker!  Since my own kitchen is not [yet] equipped with the pattern making tool, there’s something extra special about making waffles on those weekends in which we escape reality, sleep late and come to life as the waffles take shape.

The waffle is not a far cry from the pancake, but there’s something extra special about the flapjack’s patterned cousin.  Maybe the extra something is the crispiness surrounding a light and fluffy texture.  Maybe it’s the way the syrup pools in the recesses.  Maybe it’s memories of European vendors dispensing their thicker, crispier, sugared versions to travelers and city dwellers alike.  In my case, it might be the lack of flipping that lures me into the waffle charms.

Whatever the case, the waffle’s charms date back quite far!  The humble waffle has its origins in the Middle Ages, when bakers would make wafer cookies between two patterned hot plates.  Centuries later, breakfast makers and brunchers are still seeking new ways to enjoy waffles (that’s me in the spoon, in my yellow waffle shirt!  I subconsciously dressed for the occasion).

On this sunny morn, my inspiration was the perfect brunch juxtaposition of sweet and savory, but I wanted that harmonious blend in every bite…a la ham and cheese waffles inspired by Bon Appétit.

That cowgirl was callin’ out for some buffalo…Buffalo Trace that is!  Bourbon whipped cream was equally delicious on the waffles as it was in the coffee!

Ham & Cheese Waffles w/ Bourbon Whipped Cream
Recipe adapted from Bon Appétit

Ingredients

1 3/4 cups whole-wheat pastry flour
Dash of cinnamon
Dash of nutmeg
1 Tablespoon of organic brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 large eggs, separated (local/free-range)
1 cup (2 sticks) organic butter, browned
1 cup organic buttermilk
3/4 cup soda water
2 Tablespoons bourbon (Buffalo Trace)
1 cup Irish cheddar
1 cup all natural, black forest, maple ham, chopped

Directions

Whisk flour, spices, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large bowl.

In a medium bowl, use an electric mixer to beat egg whites until medium-soft peaks form.

Heat the butter in a saucepan over medium-high heat, and stir frequently until amber in color and nutty in aroma, about 4 minutes. Be careful not to let it heat too long or it will burn.

Combine the browned butter, buttermilk, soda water and bourbon in a medium bowl. Gradually whisk the buttermilk mixture into the dry ingredients.

Fold in the egg whites.

Gently stir in the Irish cheddar and black forest ham.

Grease the waffle iron with melted butter.

Use a measuring cup to scoop waffle batter onto the iron. Cook until golden brown and cooked through. Transfer to a warmed plate.

Serve with caramelized apples (organic butter, organic brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg), bourbon whipped cream and pure maple syrup!

Bourbon Whipped Cream

Ingredients

1 cup organic heavy cream
3 Tablespoons Bourbon (Buffalo Trace)
3 Tablespoons pure maple syrup
1 Tablespoon organic brown sugar

Directions

In a chilled bowl, combine all of the ingredients. Use an electric mixer to beat until peaks form. Keep chilled until ready to serve.

Enjoy!

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A Diningsaur, A Pig & A Chicken

March 2012

I have forged a few foodie bonds through that chirping bird (exhibit A)!  One such Twitter foodie friend escaped the Pittsburgh scene before we even had a chance to meet.  I don’t fault Rodzilla Reviews too much, since he left for sunnier skies, West Coast vibes and to be involved with this appetizing endeavor.  Before he left Pittsburgh, he offered a parting giveaway:  a $40 gift certificate to Union Pig & Chicken (note the offering occurred prior to the opening, so the anticipation was intense!!).

Failing to internalize the “random” aspect of the giveaway, I offered this as the reason I should have won:

Esteemed Rodzilla,

If I win, I’ll wear an orange neckerchief AND bring a dinosaur to the dinner table. I’ll take lots of pictures, so you’ll feel as though you actually enjoyed the gift card. I’ll also be less bitter about you leaving for a warmer place. Additionally, this gift card would really help me not to crave Meat & Potatoes for one night (and maybe one night only). And if I really have to dig deep, I’ll throw out the term “care package” for the win [I'm holding off on my "care package" claims for the time being, since that diningsaur is busy feasting on beauties like this, in constant sunshine and perfect breezes]! In conclusion, thanks in advance!

Ever so humbly,

QTK

ps: I’m really competitive, so I’m trying really hard to resist trash talking here. I can’t promise anything if a lot more people respond.

I didn’t win.  The luck of the draw did not favor me, but true to my word…

Rodzilla the Diningsaur’s Trip to Union Pig & Chicken

He did try to eat the menu.  It made me questions his tastes.

Blueberry Mint Rock & Rye (a special for the night)
You sure were thirsty, but after the hints of berry and mint were gone, you concluded the Onion, Black Pepper & Local Maple Rock & Rye is still the superior drink option.

Pork Shoulder
Though you did eat your fair share of that shoulder, your consumption was largely aided by the flavor and strength of the sauces.  You were left wanting. 

Damn if you didn’t help yourself to that cornbread!  It’s so sweet and buttery!  I tried to fight you, but in the end, I let you win [full disclosure:  you complimented my orange neckerchief, and the flattery caused me to let down my guard].

You’d heard some negative comments about the beans, but what did that British fella know anyway?!?  You liked the sweet kick to the bbq beans, and you also wondered…were those bites of hotdog from the other Sousa joint?!?

Your favorite?!?  The ribs!  Obviously.  You were pretty luck to snag any ribs at all once Jono set his eyes on his bbq prize!  Your snarl must have intimidated him into sharing. That’s a good trick!

Rodzilla the Diningsaur forgot to add one more comment:  it was so obvious to him the menu lacks PIE!!!  Cherry pie would look lovely with the red checkerboard decor!  It would look even lovelier with a dollop of homemade ice cream?!?  Maybe pecan pie or a lemon chess pie would be more traditional?

In the end, Rodzilla loved the long wooden tables, wooden walls, low hanging lights and hints of red so much, he decided to stay at Union Pig & Chicken permanently (he was also feeling a little too greasy to enter the world anyway).

So concluded your bbq adventure With The Grains!

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Brunch For A Babyhood Friend

March 2012

Crazy sisters made somehow crazier by adulthood… looming life questions… the jobs we have worked versus the jobs we expected to have… the broken hearts along the way… the parents we try to understand more and more… the desire to be more creative… these are the occurrences and developments that keep us on the same page, and this was the brunch that brought us to the same table.

Erica grew up in the corner green house.  I grew up in the red, brick house on the opposite corner.  We were neighbors, but we were also like family.  She was the like the little sister I never had, and when we put our heads together, the most inventive adventures ensued!  I won’t wave our crazy flags too specifically, but I figured Jono would be enthused to have a glimpse into my even weirder childhood, hence the three plates.

Salad

Spinach
Mixed Greens
Organic Raspberries
Sliced almonds
Dried Figs
Goat cheese

Vinaigrette

Dijon mustard
Olive Oil
Cabernet Wine Vinegar
Maple Syrup

Cinnamon Pull Apart Bread w/ Bourbon Buttercream
Cupcake Quiches 

It’s not a complete brunch without a little bubbly.

meyer lemon + raspberries + champagne + blackberry juice

Above is what the table looked like as we finished.  Below was what the great outdoors looked like…a turbulent swirl of snow straight into eye level no matter where you walked.

So we went for a snowventure!

Look at the tree all the way on the left.  Notice a peaceful glimpse of wildlife?

From the grays and snow covered grass of Schenley Park, we snaked along curving, sloping roads to the South Side neighborhood of Pittsburgh, where bursts of color awaited.

We continued through the blue-gray, snowy blanket to the top of the [Pittsburgh] world- Mt Washington.

As the dark day transitioned to an even darker night, Erica and I returned to the warmth of my fireplace, sipped hot tea and confided in each other as if time had never escaped us. Little did we know how many similar experiences we’d been having.  As I attempted to relay the helpful advice another friend had given to me, I was reminded how truly fortunate I am to have strong, creative, intelligent, supportive friends in my life!  This Sunday brunch and snowventuring was just what Erica and I had both needed.  Never underestimate the power of an old friend, a dining room table, snowy views and cups of tea!

Bourbon Berries Between Bread (Cinnamon Pull Apart Loaf)

February 2012

College friends disperse.  High school friends fade.  Middle school friends were a flux at the mercy of fickle times!  Elementary school kids are distant memories of Ninja Turtle sweatsuits.  Toddlerhood and babyhood friends?  Those are usually just arranged “friendships,” but oddly enough, one of the girls from my toddler days has stayed in my life through all the forks in the friendship road.  When we come together, it’s as if we never have parted.

In my case, the little girl from the green house remained a friend long after we both left the neighborhood that brought us together.  A lot of time had escaped us since our last visit, so we planned a brunch to remedy the passing of time.  I’d spied this pull apart bread on Joy the Baker‘s bright, sunny side of the blogosphere.  A visit from a longtime friend was the perfect occasion to pull apart layers of freshly baked bread while reminiscing through the many layers of our friendship.

I like to fiddle with cinnamon roll fillings.  Since this bread is much like slicing through a cinnamon roll, my gears were turning.  What to discover between the cinnamony layers?  My minty green kitchen answered the question for me.  Aha!  Perched atop the shelf was a jar containing dried cranberries and cherries, soaking up a good ol’ dose of Wild Turkey Bourbon.  This friend of mine is a Southerner [in the making] after all!

Bourbon Between Bread
(Cinnamon Sugar Pull-Apart Bread)

Makes: one 9x5x3-inch loaf

Bourbon Berries*
3/4 cup all natural, dried cranberries and dried cherries
Wild Turkey Bourbon

For the Bourbon Berries

Put the dried cranberries and cherries in a container with a lid, such as a mason jar. Add enough bourbon to cover the berries. Let soak until the berries have rehydrated and plumped. Reserve whatever liquid and berries remain after assembling the berry layer of the bread.

Dough Ingredients

2 3/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons whole-wheat pastry flour
1/4 cup turbinado sugar
2 1/4 teaspoons (1 envelope) active dry yeast
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 organic lemon, zested
1 Tablespoon freshly ground ginger

2 large eggs, at room temperature

4 Tablespoons organic, unsalted butter
1/3 cup organic whole milk

1/4 cup water
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 Tablespoon Wild Turkey

Filling Ingredients

Bourbon berries*
1 cup turbinado sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon pure cocoa
2 ounces unsalted butter, melted until browned

For the Bread

In a large mixing bowl whisk together 2 cups flour, sugar, yeast, salt, lemon zest and ginger. Set aside.

Whisk together eggs and set aside.

In a small saucepan, melt together milk and butter, until butter has just melted. Remove from the heat and add water, vanilla extract and whiskey. Let mixture stand for a minute or two to cool slightly.

Pour the milk mixture into the dry ingredients and mix with a spatula.

Add the eggs and stir the mixture until the eggs are incorporated into the batter.

Add the remaining 3/4 cup of flour and stir with the spatula for about 2 minutes. The mixture will be sticky.

Place the dough in a large, greased bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and a clean kitchen towel. Place in a warm space and allow to rest until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

The dough can be risen until doubled in size, then refrigerated overnight for use in the morning. If using this method, let the dough rest on the counter for 30 minutes before following the roll-out directions below.

While the dough rises, whisk together the sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and cocoa for the filling. Set aside.

Melt 2 ounces of butter until browned. Set aside.

Lightly grease a 9x5x3-inch loaf pan and line with a sheet of parchment paper.

Deflate the risen dough and knead about 2 Tablespoons of flour into the dough. Cover with a clean kitchen towel and let rest for 5 minutes.

On a lightly floured work surface, use a rolling pin to roll the dough out. The dough should be 12-inches tall and about 20-inches long or thereabouts.

Use a pastry brush to spread browned butter across the dough. Sprinkle with all of the cinnamon mixture.

Slice the dough vertically, into six equal-sized strips.

Spread the bourbon berries over every other strip.

Stack the strips on top of one another and slice the stack into six equal slices once again (six stacks of six squares).

Squish the dough squares in the loaf pan.

Place a kitchen towel over the loaf pan and allow in a warm place for 30 to 45 minutes or until almost doubled in size.

Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F.

Place loaf in the oven and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until the top is very golden brown. The top may be lightly browned, but the center may still be raw. A nice, dark, golden brown will ensure that the center is cooked as well. If you have a lid for your loaf pan, it will help prevent the top from burning. You could also use tinfoil for most of the baking time.

Remove from the oven and allow to rest for 20 to 30 minutes.

Use the parchment paper to pull out the loaf and transfer to a plate.

Slice and serve with bourbon buttercream!

Berried Bourbon Buttercream

Ingredients

1 package of organic Neufchatel cheese, at room temperature
¼ cup bright yellow Irish butter, at room temperature
2-3 Tablespoons pure maple syrup
1-2 Tablespoons organic brown sugar
2-3 Tablespoons bourbon reserved from Bourbon Berries*

Directions

Combine all the ingredients in a medium sized mixing bowl. Use an electric mixer or food processor to beat until smooth.

Dollop onto the pull apart bread!

Then go ahead and pull that bread apart!

Stay tuned for the rest of my brunch with my babyhood friend!

A Northern Interpretation: Union Pig & Chicken

February 2012

A Tale of Anticipation & Fulfillment

(Anticipation)

First there was the longing.  Oh the painful longing for more restaurants conjuring the experiences we’d had in other places.  Then there were the rumors.  Did someone say “bbq?”  Then there were confirmations and names attached to the big promises- did someone say “Kevin Sousa and bbq in the same sentence?”  Then it was the waiting, the tweeted sneak peeks and the salivating!

Then a sign popped up, and the city had a new, handsome corner.

Finally, the tweets confirmed bbq was in our near future!  Quietly, the restaurant announced its open doors.  Finally, we stepped inside those doors, inhaled deeply, fully took in the smoky, bbq aromas, oohed and ahhed over the reclaimed wood, and most importantly, FINALLY, we ate the northern interpretation of the southern comforts we love so much!

presenting….

Union Pig & Chicken 
(Fulfillment)

I didn’t include “wood grains” in the tag line of this blog for nothing!  I have a real appreciation for craftsmanship and rustic atmospheres.  Union Pig & Chicken nearly found a new resident in me when I beheld its wooden walls and red accents.  One of those red accents, emanating from the kitchen, hints at the kitchen scurrying without disclosing the full story.

I imagine the large, front windows may one day feature the logo (another enviable design by Jay Fanelli) to immerse the diner fully in the interior experience and help filter the nighttime glow of the bank across the street.  Perhaps the same reclaimed wood of the walls will one day become benches by those large front windows.  Maybe there’ll be some corrugated metal accents too?!?  After my first Union dinner, I’m convinced there will be more of a wait in the future, and benches will be necessary!

As if walls of wood and trays of bbq weren’t exciting enough for those of us navigating the Pittsburgh dining scene, Union Pig & Chicken displays a proper appreciation for whiskey, including the new hometown hero- Wigle Whiskey.  I momentarily had to put my Wigle excitement on the back burner in pursuit of the “Rocks & Rye” section of the menu.

My drink (neat):

Old Overholt Rye, Tangerine, Thyme, Sage Honey

An all around solid whiskey drink, but I lost interest after sipping Jono’s choice.

Jono’s game changing order (also neat):

Old Overholt Rye, Smoked Onion, Black Pepper, Local Maple 

I admit, I doubted this concoction.  I was convinced Union was going for the shock factor with the onion, but shoot, color me wrong because that concoction worked, and it worked soooo very well!  Smokey with a maple finish!  That single glass made me debate the merits of owning a smoker!

We all seemed dressed for the occasion.  Lots of reds, touches of plaid and a real zeal for the food!

Three of us, clad in our Union attire and ready for bbq, meant ample sharing opportunity, so we took advantage of the options.

MEATS

St. Louis Ribs
Our top choice from our selection of meats, especially with extra squirts of the house bbq sauce.  The surface was smoky and crisp, but the pink meat was tender.  Definitely will repeat that order on the next visit.

Fried Chicken
The crust!  The crust will convince you!  

Brisket
Eating this brisket made me realize I must have a lot to learn about brisket!  My past brisket endeavors were always in the braised, tender, shredding-as-you-cut-into-each-piece realm.  These slices surprised me.  I won’t say they disappointed me, but we collectively ranked them as our third choice of our meat options for the night.  As a jury, we’re still out.

SIDES

Greens
With a touch of sweetness and a meaty touch of bbq, greens are a must in the line up!  

Cornbread
I like my cornbread on the sweeter side, so this was a slice of golden heaven in my [cook]book.  Here’s my question to the foodies out there, when/where/how did honey and cornbread start to go hand-in-hand?  Is it an abomination to ask for a drizzle of nature’s amber colored candy?  I’m definitely in favor of the combination!

Mac ‘n Cheese
Damn if I’m not spoiled by Meat & Potatoes’ pork belly mac ‘n cheese!  This Union side dish was an all around worthwhile version, but I’d say it’s time to push for a more robust cheese.  With a smoker and that kind of meat repertoire, it’s also time to push for a smoky meat in that cheesy macaroni mix.

Conclusion
I will be back!  We will be back!  I really appreciate the dedication to strong design in both the web presence, the printed material and the interior.  I obviously appreciate the commitment to slow foods, local foods and whiskey accompaniments.  What I appreciate most is the acknowledgement that this establishment is not meant to be or imitate a southern comfort.  This is not Kevin Sousa pretending to be the master of a cuisine steeped in a region and culture that is not his own.  This is his interpretation, and it’s a damn good one!

ps:  I made promises to a certain diningsaur to represent him in my first Union experience. Admittedly, in my anticipation and excitement, I just plain dropped the ball, but stay tuned Rodzilla!  Your post will come!