Thursday, January 31, 2008

Ice Cream Heaven: Perfectly Pumpkin

I'm the kind of girl who will eat ice cream all year round. My passion for it wanes only slightly during the coldest parts of winter (and that may be somehow connected to the inevitable (and short) attempt to cut back on sweets around the turn of the New Year).

One ice cream in particular has captured my heart this year. I know it's the end of its seasonal run, but I just have to laud this amazing effort by Double Rainbow, a company that produces premium ice creams in over 70 flavors. I chanced upon Double Rainbow's Perfectly Pumpkin flavor in Trader Joe's ($1.99) during October or November when pumpkin-flavored everything was all the rage (and no, I am not complaining!).

The moment I tasted it, I was in pure pumpkin heaven. The ice cream is silky and rich and bursting with the flavor of Mom's pumpkin pie (except spiced a little more heavily): cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and brown sugar are incorporated into the almost alarmingly bright-orange ice cream base.

Last week, I was lucky to find the last few pints of it (I can't believe people aren't buying it by the case!) in the frozen section at TJ's, so I grabbed two at the sale price of $1.49.

If you are paying $4 to $5 for a pint of Ben and Jerry's or Haagen Daz, you need to check out Double Rainbow's ice creams. They are half the price and, if Perfectly Pumpkin is any indicator, twice the flavor! I'm not knocking B&J's (I am a diehard fan of "Everything But The..." and "S'mores"), but the price tag is outrageous. The 2 for $5 sales just don't happen any more! I'm looking forward to seeking out some other flavors in the near future (maybe once it warms up).

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Coffee Crawl in Pittsburgh: Tango Cafe

Tango Cafe
5806 Forward Ave
Pittsburgh, PA 15217
Phone: (412) 421-1390

The Tuesday night crew continued its search for the perfect Pittsburgh cafe with a visit to the Tango Cafe in Squirrel Hill. Boasting an authentic Argentinian menu of pastries and coffees, this unassuming little cafe packs a serious punch.

Our group of seven arrived around 9 p.m. (the cafe closes at 10 p.m.). Immediately when you walk in the door, your eyes (if they are dessert-seeking like mine) will be drawn to the small pastry case containing Argentinian pastries and cookies. Karl and I decided we had to split a Merengue ($1.99), which consisted of sweet, thick and delicious dulce de leche sandwiched between two perfectly baked merengue cookies drizzled with chocolate: the yum-factor was strong in these cookies.

I also ordered a cafe con leche ($2.10), although I really had my eye on the Tango Submarino, which the barrista informed me in her lilting Spanish accent was a bar of dark chocolate submerged in a mug of steamed milk ($3.10). I'll definitely be trying that next time!

I'm enjoying trying out different coffee shops. It's a shame that last year's regular Tuesday night meeting place, Make Your Mark Artspace and Coffehouse, is no longer open until 10 p.m. on Tuesdays, but at least we are getting to try out some of the other great locally owned cafes in our area. I wonder where we'll end up next Tuesday...?

If there is a limit to all things and a measure
And a last time and nothing more and forgetfulness,
Who will tell us to whom in this house
We without knowing it have said farewell?

from "Limits" by Jorge Luis Borges of Argentina (1899-1986)

Too Much Chicken

Yesterday, I was trying to clear out some freezer space (and actually use the food I had in there for once) so that I can soon defrost the barely hollow iceberg that it has become. So, I grabbed a 3-pound bag of boneless, skinless chicken thighs that I don't even remember buying (it must have been months ago) and set it out to defrost.

Only today did I realize I had no idea what I was going to do with 3 pounds of chicken thighs. But, having defrosted them already, there was nothing for it but to cook them all up. I started by grilling a few in my heavy-as-lead cast-iron grill pan. While I was doing that, I thought: MARINADE!

Not having much on hand, I swiped one of my sister's ridiculously cheap 12 oz. cans of beer, stared hard at it for a minute, then whipped up a marinade (see below for the recipe).

I'm pretty pleased with myself. After a couple of hours marinating in the refrigerator, I roasted the chicken in the oven for about 45 minutes. I had some of it today, and it is really tasty! Not bad for a spur of the moment idea.

Plans for the leftover chicken include:
~ 1 chicken and broccoli casserole
~ sliced chicken wrapped in pita with white-bean hummus and greek yogurt (great for lunches)
~ cubed chicken in my leftover spicy bean soup

It's fun to be able to finally be able to avoid looking up a recipe every time I'm in a bind. Although, this is kind of defeating my resolution to actually use my cookbooks this year...

Beer Marinated Chicken Thighs

12-oz. can of cheap lager
1/3 cup Worcestershire sauce
2 TSP garlic powder
salt and pepper
olive oil

Massage 2 lbs of boneless, skinless chicken thighs with olive oil (use your hands: it feels nice!). Rub a little salt and pepper into the chicken, too. Put the chicken in a shallow dish, a bowl, or a large ziploc bag. (Now wash your hands, please!)

Pour the beer over the chicken. Pour in the Worcestershire sauce. Sprinkle the garlic powder over the top. Using tongs (or, if you like the feel of chicken, use your hands! Just always remember to wash after handling raw chicken, or any meat for that matter), toss the chicken around and make sure the garlic powder gets mixed in pretty good. Cover tightly and refrigerate for 2-4 hours.

Remove chicken thighs from the marinade and place in one layer in a shallow baking dish. Discard the extra marinade (no need to baste). Let the chicken sit out for about 15 minutes (to allow to come to room temperature) while you preheat the oven to 350˚F. You can keep it covered if you want. Bake for about 40 minutes, or until internal temperature is between 160˚F and 165˚F.

Let rest for about 5 minutes before cutting into them. Delicious hot or cold.

Monday, January 28, 2008

East Liberty Presbyterian Church

East Liberty Presbyterian Church
116 S. Highland Ave.
Pittsburgh, PA 15206
Phone: (412)441-3800

Karl and I attended East Liberty Presbyterian's 11 a.m. service Sunday morning in keeping with Karl's resolution to go to church this year. The service was very similar to Shadyside Presbyterian's, with a few exceptions:

(1) There was only one special song sung by the chancel choir (and I didn't like it: the choir wasn't nearly as well-trained as Shadyside's, plus the piece was a modern, and hence, less sonorous arrangement of the text).
(2) There was a 5-minute children's sermon in the midst of the service (a practice I have mixed feelings about, though this particular one wasn't so bad).
(3) The reverend made announcements as if he knew members of the congregation personally (at Shadyside, it was much more impersonal and generally applicable).

Overall, East Liberty was a tad less polished than Shadyside, but somehow, that made it all the more likeable.

One interesting note: the church organist for this Sunday happened to be a 13-year-old student of Hope Academy (who, I'm sure, is not on the payroll). Because the organist is almost always hidden from view, I only realized this after I got suspicious during the hymns and checked the program.

If you have ever listened to an experienced organist play hymns in a large, reverberating sanctuary, you may have noticed that such an organist pays no heed to what he or she hears (e.g., the congregation's singing). Of necessity, the organist must simply play in a steady tempo without adjusting for auditory signals. It's pretty difficult for an organist to train him- or herself to do this, but it's really the only way. No matter what happens, the congregation and the actual sounds of the organ will always be a beat or two behind the organist's fingers striking the keys. That's just the nature of sound! Anyway, on the performance pieces, our 13-year-old was rather spectacular, but during the hymns, her inexperience showed.

Regardless, the service was nice, and the sermon was really quite good. Also, the sanctuary was simply breathtaking. It is quite large, with very high ceilings. If you are seated facing the front of the sanctuary, you have a marvelous view of some elegant stained glass (a dying art) and extraordinary stonework. I believe the Cathedral of Hope (the current building for the ELPC) was completed around 1935 or so. It's worth a look just for the architecture.

Another good church! Next week, we may check out St. Paul's Catholic Diocese, so be looking out for that blog!

Sunday, January 27, 2008

"Jazz" in Pittsburgh: Paparazzi

2100 E Carson St
Pittsburgh, PA 15203
Phone: (412) 488-0800

Saturday night, Karl and I went out with one of his friends, Neal, and Neal's girlfriend Heather who was visiting from out of town. Neal had expressed interest in finding a good jazz club as the site of our Saturday escapade, and he settled on Paparazzi, which was supposed to have a jazz band performing that night.

Paparazzi is a combination bar and restaurant. The restaurant is on the second floor, and the bar is on the first floor. The bar has a very small dance space (supposedly to accommodate swing dancers for their monthly swing nights): it doesn't seem large enough for more than two pairs to really heat things up, though.

When we arrived, the band was still setting up, so we just took our seats and ordered drinks. My Pomegranate Truffle martini ($7) was pretty delicious, I have to confess. Karl ordered a Yeungling for $2.50.

Then the band started playing.

Now, I don't know if they changed their lineup because there was an undergraduate fraternity playing "Bar Golf" passing through, or if they really weren't a jazz band at all: the first song they played was a cover of Usher's "Yeah!" Then they played "Kiss" (Prince), "Sexyback" (Justin Timberlake), and "Billie Jean" (Michael Jackson), before they settled into some old-school soul and R&B (following the exit of the golfers).

Needless to say, I was not terribly impressed. Although, to be fair, they were a good group of musicians. The covers were very good. I was probably not enthused because i had come expecting jazz.

Ah well. I wouldn't mind going back just to hang out at the bar. The patrons were an eclectic mix of senior citizens (dressed in their finery), middle-aged businesspeople, 20-somethings, and, of course, the undergraduate fraternity/sorority crowd. Any bar that hosts such a mixed crowd is ok in my book!

Pomegranate Truffle Martini

2 oz Pomegranate Flavored Vodka
1 oz White Crème de Cacao
1 oz Fresh Cream
½ oz Grenadine

Shake well with ice in a shaker and strain into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with a Maraschino cherry.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Breakfast in Pittsburgh: Coca Cafe

Coca Cafe
3811 Butler Street
Pittsburgh, PA 15203
Hours: Tuesday-Thursday 7am - 3pm
Saturday 9am - 3pm
Sunday Brunch 10am - 3pm
Phone: 412-621-3171

After an early-morning service project with the Pitt Legal Income Sharing Foundation (PLISF), seven of us decided to change our breakfast plan from Pamela's, the staple student breakfast venue in the Oakland and Shadyside areas, to trying the Coca Cafe in Lawrenceville. I had been there last year for Sunday brunch with my friends Matt, Katie, Ben, and Dave and enjoyed it very much, but hadn't gotten around to going again.

The decor, as you can see in the photos, is very artsy, but bright and uncluttered. With a party of seven in a fairly small space, we procured a table immediately at 9:30 a.m. on a Saturday morning. When I came last time on a Sunday, the place was swarming with people and my party of five had to wait 40 minutes for a table.

The food was spectacular, even more so than I remembered. I had been planning to eat as cheaply as possible. The obvious choice in that case would be to get the Hot Irish Oatmeal with brown sugar, dried fruit, walnuts, and milk for $5.00 (fresh berries an additional $1). However, when I saw on the menu Herbed Goat Cheese French Toast with Berries ($7.75), all thoughts of frugality and budgeting fled my intrigued mind.

After waiting only about 15 minutes, our food arrived, piping hot and all at the same time: quite a feat for a small kitchen! My French Toast (made with Challah bread stuffed with a basil goat-cheese and served with fresh strawberries and blueberries) was perfect. I had worried that the flavor combinations would be a bit strange, but the mild, creamy tang of the goat cheese melded wonderfully with the berries' sweetness. The three thick slices of golden, crisp Challah were the perfect canvas for the simple yet sophisticated flavor combinations.

I passed out nibbles of my adventurous French Toast to other inquisitive diners, and they all agreed that it was, at least, interesting! In exchange, I got to try Ariel's Egg White Omelet with fresh spinach, basil, goat cheese, and tomatoes ($6.50) and Ruchi's Southwest Breakfast Wrap (scrambled tofu [substituted for eggs], roasted peppers, spinach, caramelized onions, and Meunster cheese in a wheat wrap ($6.50)); both tasted scrumptious.

One minor annoyance: for a party of our size (7), the restaurant has a policy of refusing to split the table's check to accommodate several methods of paying. For larger parties of modern card-carrying consumers who don't often carry cash, this could be a major setback, especially for new or infrequent diners.
The restaurant does accept credit cards.

Note: The menu on the Coca Cafe website is a little out-of-date, but most of what is currently on the menu can be viewed there. Just be aware that the prices may have changed (usually increased).

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Kelly's Bar & Lounge

Last night, my sister made good on her promise to take me out to a bar (part of my Christmas present this year). I chose Kelly's, a bar and lounge I've been meaning to check out for a while now. Thankfully, Karl joined us after a long day of skiing at the Seven Springs Resort, so we didn't have to walk the mile and a half to the bar and back.

The inside of the bar looks more like a diner. There are no tables, just a couple of rows of booths separated from the bar by a 3-foot-high divider. The decor is very retro, kind of like a 1950's style diner.

The special of the night was the Manhattan ($4), a cocktail I've never had before, so Sara and I started out with those. Sara had hers on the rocks (over ice in an old-fashioned glass), while mine was up (no ice, served in a martini glass). I enjoyed mine so much I ordered three more, while Sara switched to beer, of which there wasn't a huge selection, but it wasn't exactly slim pickings either. There were 8 or 9 beers on tap. Karl had the Penn St. Nick, and Sara had Iron City, Yeungling, and Straub.

Karl ordered some food since he hadn't had dinner, so I got to taste his fried fish tacos ($7.50). They were piping hot and absolutely delicious. I usually think of fish tacos as having grilled fish, but these were lightly breaded and fried slabs of tilapia. I didn't get much of a taste, since Karl was so hungry that he scarfed both tacos down in about 5 minutes.

I was starting to get hungry, but I refrained from spending money on the other tasty-looking items on the menu: pierogis and kielbasa ($9), sweet-potato french fries ($4.50), macaroni and cheese ($6, or $4 for a small plate)...etc, etc. I had to put that menu down!

One thing I really liked about Kelly's was their association with Ladies United for the Preservation of Endangered Cocktails (LUPEC), an organization whose mission is to "breed, raise, and release cocktails that are endangered or even believed to be extinct." As a result, Kelly's serves classic cocktails like the Grasshopper, the Pink Squirrel, The Gin & Sin, and the Firefly ($7 each). I'd like to go back and try some of them some time, maybe when they are on special.

The only things I wasn't crazy about was the really loud jukebox (classic style, not the touch-screen kind) and the smokiness. I'm not against smoking in bars, but there wasn't much air circulation in that small space, so it sort of exacerbated the situation.

I'll probably be going back, though!

Make your own Manhattan (and other classics)!


3/4 oz sweet vermouth
2 1/2 oz bourbon whiskey
1 dash Angostura bitters
1 maraschino cherry

Place cherry in bottom of martini glass. Shake the vermouth, whiskey, and bitters in a shaker with ice, and strain into the glass. Enjoy!
(Can also be served over ice in an old-fashioned glass)


1 oz Creme de Menthe (or other mint liqueur)
1 oz Creme de Cacao White
1 oz light cream
chocolate shavings (garnish)

Shake all ingredients in a shaker with ice, then strain into a martini glass. Sprinkle chocolate shavings on top.

Pink Squirrel

1 oz Creme de Noyaux
1 TBSP Creme de Cacao White
1 TBSP light cream

Shake all ingredients in a shaker with ice, then strain into a martini glass.

Gin & Sin

1 1/2 oz gin
1 oz orange juice
1 oz lemon juice
1/2 tsp grenadine

Shake all ingredients in a shaker with ice, then strain into a martini glass.


1 oz vodka
4 oz grapefruit juice
1 tsp grenadine

Shake the vodka and grapefruit juice in a shaker filled with ice and strain into a martini glass. Add the grenadine in the center of the drink (don't stir), then serve.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Where Frugality and Nutrition Collide: Beans

Karl once told me about a clash of food philosophy he once had with his home economics teacher in high school. His teacher had been talking about living within your means by sticking to a budget. When it came to food, she said, it was best to eat average, moderately priced food all month long, always having enough as well as variety, rather than to blow the majority of your monthly budget on one grand meal then scraping by with meager monotony the rest of the month.

Karl is of the opinion that eating frugally most of one month is a small price to pay for having one extravagant, luxurious, and delectably pricey meal. The contrast makes him appreciate the good stuff all the more!

I think I agree with him, in theory. In practice, however, I have difficulty eating the same thing over and over, even with the promise that, every 30 days or so, my bored taste buds will experience sensory overload in a culinary Las Vegas.

Now that Karl really is operating on a budget, he has put his philosophy into practice. He received a 5-qt Rival Slow Cooker for Christmas and has made good use of it.

For example, for the past two weeks, he has been eating almost nothing but rice and beans for lunches and dinners. He didn't calculate the cost of those meals, but he has just whipped up a fresh five quarts of bean-veggie stew that will feed him, presumably for another 2 weeks, along with rice, for the stunningly low cost of about $12 (see below for a recipe and a breakdown). To mix it up for a bit of variety, he adds various hot sauces (Sriracha is the current favorite) and spices.

As if the cost alone weren't enough to drive you to a diet of rice and beans, think of the nutrition side! Karl's stew contains no added sodium, or even spices. There is no oil, and it is vegetable- and protein-rich. As long as he drinks some milk and eats some fruit every day (an apple a day with lunch, milk with his raisin bran in the morning), Karl is eating ridiculously well-balanced meals for about $0.50 each.

This is all well and good. I know I should be jumping on the rice and beans boat, but I just love having variety in my diet. At some point (probably two days into the two week marathon of beans), I would be craving something else, and the sight of a bowl of beans would make me feel ill. This is probably a purely psychological issue that I can, and should, overcome, in the interests of saving money and actually eating better as a result. I guess I'm just not ready.

In the meantime, I do enjoy a bowl of Karl's delicious stew every once in a while. But I'd rather eat a Swad Microwave Curry with my rice (paneer a must!) one day, and a peanut-butter and jelly sandwich the next. Variety, for me, seems to be a little more indispensable than for Karl.

Karl's "Budget Bean Stew"
1 32-oz bag of dried mixed beans (15-bean mix) (follow soaking instructions on bag)
1 16-oz bag of dried lentils
1 medium onion, chopped
1 cup celery, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
1 yam, cubed
1 medium parsnip, chopped
1 8-oz can tomato sauce
3 or 4 packets Trader Joe's low-sodium vegetable broth concentrate (or low-sodium bouillon cubes)
2 or 3 cups shredded cabbage
3 or 4 cups water

Put all ingredients, except water, into a 5-qt slow cooker. If you have a smaller slow cooker, you'll probably want to pare down the amounts or your slow cooker will be overflowing.
Once you have all the ingredients in, pour water in until you can see it approaching the rim. Set your slow cooker to low, and cook for 8-12 hours. You really can't over-cook this.

Enjoy with rice, or just as a stew!

Monday, January 21, 2008

Spanish Cuisine in Pittsburgh: Mallorca

Yesterday, after feeding our spirits at Shadyside Presbyterian and feeding our inner-outdoorspeople at REI, Karl and I feasted mightily at Mallorca, a Spanish restaurant on E. Carson and 22nd in the South Side.

The Pittsburgh City Paper named Mallorca for "Best Outdoor Dining" and "Best Spanish Food" in Pittsburgh. While it was a bit chilly (17˚F) to test the former, I certainly agree with the latter award!

Right next door to Mallorca is its sister restaurant, Ibiza, a tapas and wine bar that Karl and I enjoy frequenting for its delicious and varied array of tapas and inexpensive wine flights ($10 and up for 4 half-glasses). We were pretty excited to explore the heftier Spanish fare at Mallorca.

Mallorca would clearly have been out of the question price-wise for two poor graduate students (entrees $17-$40) had it not been for the uber-generosity of Karl's parents. His father, while in town for a convention a couple of months ago, had chanced across Mallorca for lunch, enjoyed the goat immensely, and consequently promised Karl that he and I could have a meal there on him.

Well, we didn't get his goat. We had all the best intentions of ordering goat for lunch, but the first special we heard in our waiter's thick, Spanish accent changed our plans: wild boar.

Neither of us had ever had wild boar previously. We briefly considered the rabbit entree but settled on Plan A: splitting the wild boar ($36, with an extra plate costing a mere $6.00) and ordering two bowls of soup ($4.95 each). It seemed like it would be a nice light lunch. We assumed that the wild boar entree would be a lunch-sized portion...

Though the wine list doesn't list any, Mallorca does offer wine by the glass. Since we didn't want a bottle, we ordered two glasses of their house Rioja ($8 each) in anticipation of a good pairing with the boar. The Rioja was delicious: the nose smelled obviously of chocolate-covered cherries that carried over into the taste. The bottle had clearly been open for a while, allowing the tannins of this Tempranillo wine to soften and highlight the bright berry notes with faint spice.

We started off with salads of mixed greens, onions, tomatoes, and hearts of palm in a mustard-y version of thousand island dressing (included in the price of entree). I nibbled at mine, picking out the hearts of palm (my favorite!). I didn't want to spoil my appetite, after all.

Our soups arrived shortly after the salads: one Sopa de Ajo (Garlic soup) and one Caldo Gallego (Spanish Vegetable Soup). The Sopa de Ajo was delicious, with the traditional soft-cooked egg in the bowl. I enjoyed the Caldo Gallego soup, too. The hot soup chased the chills from our bones.

Then came our "light lunch."

Two legs of falling-off-the-bone boar in a delicious sauce with lima beans , a plate of yellow rice, a plate of freshly fried potato slices and a bowl of mixed vegetables later (most of which we had wrapped up to go), we ordered a piece of almond cake (who can resist almond cake, I ask you?). The waiter also brought us two complimentary almond liqueurs from the bar. Did we feel like royalty? Oh yes!

Waddling out to the car, our bellies full and with the promise of a repeat meal (due to our sizeable doggy bag), we decided that we'd definitely return some day to taste the goat.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

New Year's Resolution: Attend Church

Yesterday, Karl and I made good on one of his New Year's resolutions to find (and go to) a church in the Pittsburgh/Oakland area when we didn't make it out to North Huntingdon with my parents (kind of a trek!). So, we attended a service at Shadyside Presbyterian Church. Great music, scattered sermon, but an all-around nice church. I'm glad we went. Next week, we're going to investigate East Liberty Presbyterian.

Two things I've decided I like about the Presbyterian church: the music and the architecture.

We sang hymns yesterday! I forget how much I miss hymns sometimes. The church at which I'm a member is fondly referred to among its members as the "Rock-and-roll" church. We have a band, including drums, electric and acoustic guitars, bongos, a keyboard, and an electric bass. It's fun and exciting, but I often feel that a more serene, solemn service is just what I need. I'm not always fond of the organ used in most traditional services, but the organist at Shadyside Presbyterian was very nice.

I also enjoyed the presence of a chancel choir. It's good to have harmonies when you're singing hymns, and I also love when the choir sings short pieces to enhance the worshipful atmosphere of the service.

Yes, I do appreciate some good music! Yesterday's service included some lovely music, which you can actually listen to (along with the sermon and hymns) at the Shadyside Presbyterian website.

Just take a look at these two buildings!

Shadyside Presbyterian and East Liberty Presbyterian

In sum: I enjoyed going to church!