Saturday, January 28, 2012

A pear of ideas

Do you like pears? Several varieties line the fruit bins at the grocery right now. I bought a couple of Bosc pears without knowing much about them. After a quick cruise on some recipe sites, I decided to bake them in the microwave.

Nuked Boscs

1 Bosc pear, halved lengthwise and cored

1 T. dark brown sugar

2 t. whipped butter

1 t. cinnamon (more or less to taste)

Place pear halves in glass bowl. Add brown sugar, cinnamon and butter. Cover with plastic wrap, leaving an opening for steam to escape.

Microwave on 50 percent for 90 seconds. If the pear is not done enough to suit you, microwave for another 30 seconds at 50 percent.

For a real treat, add 1.5 t. whipped cream cheese and a sprinkling of walnuts into the core cavity.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Good eats in Pittsburgh

Who knew that Pittsburgh would be full of wonderful restaurants?

My new work project will have me in Pittsburgh most of the fall and winter. (Winter in Pittsburgh ... won’t that be fun?) The hotel is right across the street from PNC Park and a few blocks from Heinz Field, which should make for some interesting stays during football season.

I spent my first week in Pittsburgh at the end of August, with a few co-workers, as we kicked off the new project. One of my co-workers, Katie, had been to Pittsburgh before, so she had our dining options all lined up for the week. Although I found one place that she hadn’t been before ... I think that place will be one of my favorites.

Six Penn

I found this place by accident. What a happy accident it turned out to be.

I had a free Sunday in Pittsburgh, so I went to the Andy Warhol museum and then walked around downtown. It was past lunchtime and I was hungry. I saw Starbucks and figured I’d just get an iced chai and a sandwich. I looked across the street and saw two guys walk out of this place called Six Penn and decided to see what they had.

The restaurant was still serving brunch and something on the menu caught my eye — cheesecake-stuffed french toast with berry compote. How could I pass that up?

I’m sooooo glad I didn’t!

Brunch started with a breadbasket of pumpkin bread with cinnamon apple butter.

And then came the french toast.


The brioche made the french toast light, not dense and heavy like you get at many places. The cheesecake filling wasn’t too sweet. And the warm berry compote was perfect. I had ordered a side of homemade sausage patties, which were interestingly seasoned with caraway seeds.

We went back later in the week for dinner. I wasn’t very hungry that night, so I ordered homemade pretzels and an heirloom tomato salad. I can’t wait to go back and start ordering off the dinner menu.

This is going to be my “I don’t know where I want to eat so I’ll eat here” place in Pittsburgh. And it’s just over the river from the hotel, so it’s easy to get to.

Lidia’s Italy-Pittsburgh

According to the website, there’s a Lidia’s in Kansas City. But I’ve never heard of the place. This was another restaurant on Katie’s “must eat here” list.

The entryway of the restaurant was filled with Lidia’s many cookbooks, one of which mentioned her 52-part cooking series on PBS.

The menu was full of delicious looking Italian dishes. But we all opted for the house special — the Pasta Trio, with caesar salad and dessert.

I don’t remember the exact names of the pasta dishes, but two featured homemade pasta and one pasta imported from Italy. The pastas were served tableside from skillets. It was all you can eat, but one serving was more than enough.

I had to leave room for dessert!

Katie and I couldn’t decide which dessert we wanted -- the Nutella dark chocolate banana confection or the lemon-blueberry cake. So we each ordered one then shared.

I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.

The Church Brew Works

This brew pub was a favorite of my co-workers when my company had previously done work in Pittsburgh.

The pub used to be a Catholic church, becoming a brew pub in 1996.

It’s a little strange to see brew vats where the altar used to be in a church, but at least they’d removed the Stations of the Cross from the walls. If those were there, that would have just been weird. If you go to the website, you can read the history of the area and the church, including its transformation to brew pub.

I was hungry that night, so while others opted for the Pittsburgh-style salad (complete with french fries), I had a BBQ pork chop. It was thick and perfectly cooked, served with a side of crispy polenta and spicy slaw.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The (comfortable) way home

If you ever have the chance (ie, money) to fly Business Elite (or first class or whatever your airline calls it) on an international flight ...


I was not looking forward to the long flight from London to Boston at the end of my five days in London with friends Katie and Amanda. It had been go-go-go every day and all I wanted to do was sleep. I just cannot sleep on a plane. And although I had purchased an Economy Comfort seat -- featuring extra legroom -- it was still an economy seat. My chances of a decent nap were slim to none.

On the flight to London, I’d managed a few cat naps. Although my post-dinner cat nap was interrupted when the guy next to me spilled a full cup of coffee on my lap. I was not happy.

So, the flight home loomed ahead, and I was dreading it.

Security and customs at Heathrow went quicker than I expected. After Amanda stocked up on Bounty bars, we headed to the gate. It was a little chaotic, as a flight for New York was boarding and people for the Boston flight were milling around (in other words, people in boarding zone 4 were standing around, blocking traffic).

While we were sitting and talking, I thought I heard our last names over the intercom. It was hard to tell what they were saying, as it was noisy and I have a horrible time understanding some British accents. As we walked up to the counter, we heard our names called again ... more clearly this time.

There was a line of people, five people behind the counter and only one person helping people. It took a bit to figure out what was going on, but we finally learned we were getting upgrades.

I was positively giddy.

Our free Business Elite seats split us up, but we were fine with that. After five days of doing pretty much everything together, we didn’t feel the need to sit together on the plane. Anyway, those two don’t talk to people when they fly. They’re no fun.

I was in row 10, which was the last row of the Business Elite cabin. Each seat was its own little console area. One console at the window, two in the middle, another that the other window.

Each seat had a nice little table area, reading light, USB port, power outlet, pop-out tray table (which needed a 10-page user manual to pop back in), a remote control in the arm, and the touch-screen monitor in the back of the seat in front of you.

And tons of leg room. Oh, the leg room! Can you be giddy on top of giddy?

Your leg room was under the console of the seat in front of you. Each seat reclined totally flat. My legs were just a bit too long for the available leg room. But did that really matter? No, it didn’t. The fact my seat reclined flat made up for that.

Did I mention the full-size feather pillow and quilted blanket? And that the seat had mild lumbar massage? Seriously.

As I was getting settled, a flight attendant stopped by -- “orange juice or mimosa?” Mimosa, of course!

And shortly after the plane took off, we got little dishes of nuts and drinks.

Lunch was a three-course affair. The appetizer was Thai-spiced cold shrimp with coucous, with an optional bowl of carrot-ginger soup. The mixed green salad had nuts and goat cheese. The main course was chicken with asparagus and mashed potatoes (which is what I got); something beefy; or a plate of cold cuts. The wine list was quite extensive. I didn’t eat much of the main course, as the appetizer and salad were plenty.

Oh, did I mention the dessert cart? Tarts, cookies and ice cream sundaes. Yum, ice cream sundae. Berry AND chocolate sauce.

After lunch I took a nap, utilizing the full recline on my seat. Put on my eye mask, curled up with my pillow and blanket, and caught some sleep. Quite a switch from the flight to London. And no one spilled coffee on me this time!

Drinks were refreshed frequently. The pre-landing snack options were a ham and cheese sandwich or a salad. We were planning on eating at Legal’s Test Kitchen in the Boston airport, so I skipped the snack.

The only bad thing about my seat was it was in the last row of the Business Elite cabin, near the bathroom and one of the galleys. A bit smelly and noisy at times, but I really didn’t care. I was flying Business Elite ... for free! ... on an international flight.

I’m still giddy thinking about it!

Monday, May 30, 2011

Fun in Baton Rouge and New Orleans ... minus the food

First, a few pics from our New Orleans, Baton Rouge trip a couple of weeks ago. I understand this would have been the weekend to go, since it was Bayou Fest and Kenny Chesney and the Zac Brown Band were playing, but Hart's graduation trumped all that. So, here's what you get from our trip.

What do you know? Gene Simmons at Live After Five in downtown BR! Marilyn Monroe was there, too, but we didn't get her pic.

This is just a chick Dorsey and I were fascinated by because she was drunk and dancing with anyone and everything.

Ha! Me.

Thanks to the nice man who just offered to take our pic. 

Live music. They do this every Friday night. It's free, except for the alcohol. 

Saturday in New Orleans. Lots of great people-watching.

I found the best place in the world. "It's So Good," or something like that. The inside is all pink, and it's all jewelry and accessories. I got that pink necklace and pink rhinestone hoop earrings I'm wearing. I also got a fleur de lis necklace and bracelet. I already want to go back.

Inside Margaritaville.

These people were having fun. They had already had quite a lot to drink and were pretty boisterous.

Dorsey's fascination. 

This guy was really good. He played "Sittin' on the Dock of the Bay" for me, as well as "Sweet Home Alabama."

On the balcony of Crescent City Brewery. I had crawfish. That's a new thing for me.

See the Hand Grenade? Dangerous drink. Dorsey is already in search of the recipe.

This was a thing called "Sunday in the Park," also done in downtown BR. It was just OK. Didn't like zydeco music. People were fun to watch, though. 

Dorsey's oysters on the half-shell at The Chimes near the LSU campus. .37 cents each. Great deal if you like that crap.

Me at the Chimes. The bar behind me is famous for its many different beers. It has a wall of fame for those who have drunk every beer offered in the bar. I am not one of them. Hee hee. 

Dorsey's the foody. I'm the funny. :) Tell him to get busy with the food part of this blog!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Eating my way through Roanoke

The only part of Virginia I've been to is Alexandria, which is really Washington, D.C. Everyone at work told me that they loved Roanoke. Know I know why.

It's small enough that the speed limit on the highway through town is still 55 mph. The downtown is trying to revive, which a cute little shop on a block with several empty buildings. But what I couldn't believe were all of the restaurants in the downtown area! You could eat someplace different for several weeks without having to make a return trip to any one restaurant. But there are some places you'd definitely want to go back to ... again and again and again.

Blues BBQ Co.

107 Market St. S.E.

I can't go to the South and not have barbecue. Fortunately, there's a local BBQ joint right in downtown in the market area.

Tucked into a corner, most of the interior of Blues BBQ is taken up with a huge bar. There might have been upstairs seating, but I didn't notice as we walked by the stairs if that area was open. There is also outside seating in the market area, which would be nice on a not-too-humid day.

I opted for the Carolina Style Pulled Pork sandwich, which featured dry rubbed smoked pork shoulder, served with a spicy apple vinegar sauce. (The other option was the Memphis Pulled Pork, served with a tangy BBQ sauce.) I had the slaw on the side (rather than on the sandwich) and fries. Yummy! The sandwich was piled high with moist, tender pork. After I ate the whole sandwich (and most of the fries), I was ready for an after-lunch nap and a bigger pair of pants.

(I somehow failed to take a picture of my sandwich before I ate it. I'll have to do that next time. You'll just have to trust me that it's as good as it looks.)

There were three sauces on the table -- the apple vinegar sauce, a tangy red sauce and a mustardy sauce -- and I tried a bit of each with my sandwich. The vinegar sauce and tangy sauce were actually good in combination.

Appetizers include fried grit cakes, fried green tomatoes, fried pickles ... you get the idea. A few pizzas and three salads also grace the menu. But this is a BBQ place, folks.

Other sandwich options were beef, ham, brisket and chicken. BBQ platters included baby back ribs, a half pound of brisket, pulled pork and chicken. And then there were other entrees, one of which was something like three half-pound hot dogs topped with a pound of BBQ meat. Unfortunately, the website doesn't have the full menu posted, so I can't give you the details. But reading the description made my stomach roll over a bit.

According to the website, the restaurant also has a bourbon club. You can join for free. As you work your way through sampling the 61 different bourbons, you can rack up prizes. Probably don't want to try all 61 in one sitting, however.

New York Pizza

708 Hardy Road, Vinton

At the end of my first week in Roanoke, we took a field trip to New York Pizza. When you see the building, you're of mixed thought -- 1) old building, ewww; 2) old building, must have been here forever; and 3) why is there a life-size statue of Jesus in the parking lot?

This place really is a local gem. I'm guessing Little League teams and soccer teams come here after games for pizza.

The pizza looked amazing, and the calzones were huge. Subs, stromboli, burgers and pizza rolls fill out the menu. But we went specifically for the cheese steak sandwiches.

Oh. My. Gosh.

Most of us ordered the Cheese Steak Special, which comes with mushrooms, onions and green peppers (I picked out the green peppers). Someone ordered tomato and lettuce on their cheese steak sandwich, which I don't quite understand. But to each his own.

I'm going to let the photo speak for itself on the size of the sandwich. Let's just say that it did NOT come with fries or chips. Just a pickle. And quite honestly, even the pickle was a little too much. I couldn't even eat the entire sandwich. There would have been no way I could have eaten fries, too.

Yum. Yum. Yum.

Thelma's Chicken and Waffles

315 Market St.

This restaurant is right by the downtown market. If you're looking for a light meal, this is not the place to eat. But if you're looking for some good ole Southern homestyle cooking, sit right down.

Service is casual but friendly. After all, this restaurant proclaims it's a "family owned business founded on Faith, Hope and One Love!"

The house speciality, as the name implies, is chicken and waffles. Just thinking about eating the two at the same meal kind of made my stomach turn a bit. But you gotta do like the locals do, right?

Turned out to be pretty darn good. The chicken -- fried, of course -- was moist and juicy. Topped with the hot sauce on the table (tasted like it had a lot of Frank's Hot Sauce or something similar in it), the crispy, spicy chicken was a nice balance to the soft, sweet waffle smothered in maple syrup. I don't know what it was about the waffle that made it so good, but that was the best waffle I think I've ever eaten. Just the smell of it alone was enough to make me drool a little as my plate was set before me.

I barely touched the side dish of fried potatoes. And I love fried potatoes. But that waffle was just too good to waste space in my stomach with potatoes!

For an added touch of ambiance, the maple syrup container was stuck to the table. Gotta love it!

Thelma's menu is full of home-cooked style meals. I think pretty much all of the meats are fried. Most of the appetizers are fried. Side dishes to entrees include lima beans, mash potatoes, corn pudding, mac and cheese, cabbage and onion rings. You can even order extra meats with your entree -- anyone for a side of chicken livers?

The menu also includes hot dogs, burgers, catfish sandwiches, ribs and a plentiful breakfast selection.

Wear elastic waist pants and plan on a nap after you eat. It's a wonder I was able to go back to work that afternoon!

The Quarter

19 Salem Ave.

You know it's a Cajun place when the sign on the outside of the building has a neon alligator.

The building housing The Quarter is beautiful. Like most of the downtown eateries, it is an older building that has been remodeled. Downstairs and upstairs dining rooms, with a patio area for when the weather is nice. Beautiful wood bars on both levels (I stole the photo of the bar off their Facebook page).

High ceilings, I think with painted tin panels. (I prefer the unpainted tin panels, but maybe these were in bad shape or something ... or maybe no one has respect for architecture and their idea of good design is to paint it black ... but I digress.)

I ordered the Shrimp and Andouille Pasta. My serving had four or five good-sized shrimp, mixed with a good portion of sausage, tossed with a Cajun cream sauce and penne pasta. The shrimp were good, and the sausage had a mild kick to it (I've had better andouille). The cream sauce had good flavor, but it didn't have as much kick to it as I expected. My dining companion mentioned that maybe folks in Roanoke can't handle the spiciness. Overall, the dish was good, but just seemed to lack the uumph it needed.

The menu also includes staples like red beans and rice, crawfish etouffe, jambalya, shrimp and grits, seafood po' boys and muffuletta. Along with sandwiches, burgers and salads.

Online review are not kind to the food at The Quarter. Service and atmosphere get high marks, however.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Baked Buffalo Chicken

Do you ever take chicken out of the freezer, let it thaw and then don't know what to do with it? My fallback chicken preparation method is this Baked Buffalo Chicken.

This chicken is good on its own, with a couple of side dishes. I like to cut it up in a salad or make a buffalo chicken sandwich.

I make a few modifications to this recipe. First, I double the sauce. What the recipe makes just doesn't seem to cover the chicken enough. Second, I don't brown the chicken on the stovetop. I just throw it in a baking dish, cover it with the sauce and shove it in the oven.

cooking spray
4 (4-ounce) skinned, boneless chicken breasts
1/4 cup hot sauce (like Frank's hot sauce -- if you want to kick up the heat, add a few drops of Tabasco)
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1 tablespoon stick margarine, melted
1 teaspoon celery seeds
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1/2 cup fat-free blue cheese dressing

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Coat a large nonstick skillet with cooking spray; place over medium heat until hot. Add chicken; cook 4 minutes on each side or until browned. Place chicken in a 11x7 baking dish coated with cooking spray.

Combine hot sauce and next 4 ingredients; pour over chicken. (I like to make sure the chicken is entirely coated in the sauce.) Bake, uncovered, at 400 degrees for 25 minutes.

Serve with blue cheese dressing. (Serving size: 1 chicken breast and 2 tablespoons dressing)