21 April 2017

Quick trips: Pittsburgh

I used Pittsburgh as my home base last week for a couple of university appearances, and I will preface this post with the truth: you could spend a lot more time in Pitt doing a lot more super cool things. But here's a little something to get you started while you're buying your opera tickets and looking up all your favorite galleries.

Lawrenceville neighborhood:
Coca Cafe has to-die-for egg sandwiches with kimchi, excellent coffee, and a chill, funky vibe just a few blocks off the Allegheny River. Afterwards, talk a short hilly stroll to enjoy the Art Deco architecture of Arsenal Middle School and the grandiose Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church, which kind of transports you back to Victorian Europe. Pints on Penn makes for a break across the street from 19th Century composer Stephen Foster's home, too.


Crafton neighborhood:
Authentic family-style Italian-American food is pretty easy to come by in Pittsburgh, but I loved Sarafino's for its raucous close-knit atmosphere, perfectly dressed pasta (the red clam sauce was delish), and a soaked almond creme cake which puts all other cakes to shame. They don't serve alcohol, so make like the locals and come prepared with your own bottle or two (or in one case, a martini shaker and various bottles of brightly-colored liquors). Big Daddy's Donuts is good, too, but be forewarned, they're not actually open 24/7 as some websites might say. They are super fresh.

Some other cools stuff to see:
Andy Warhol Museum
Heinz History Center, with a display of Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood
Nationality Rooms at University of Pittsburgh, honoring the various origins of Pittsburgh's melting pot

07 April 2017

The salad that eats like a (light, springy) meal

I love grain salads; they travel well for not-sad desk lunches, and they make interesting sides to fish, tofu, or meat. This one has me finally using up that enormous tub of Israeli couscous I bought on a whim last winter (don't skip the toasting in the recipe below!), and it makes the most of early spring vegetables, if they're available in your area.

Israeli Couscous Salad

Serves 6 as a side, 4 as a light meal

For the couscous:
2 cups Israeli couscous
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2+1/2 cups water
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Using a medium saucepan, heat couscous and oil over medium heat for about 6 minutes or until the grains are golden brown.

Add water and salt, stir. Increase the heat to high and bring to a boil. Stir. Reduce heat to low, cover and allow to simmer for about 10 minutes or until all the water is absorbed. Remove pan from heat and let stand, still covered for a few minutes. Next, grab a baking sheet. Spread the couscous in a single layer and cool. Set aside.

For the salad:
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
kosher salt and pepper
2 shallots, sliced thin
3 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons lemon juice, plus more for finishing
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
4 ounces or 4 cups of baby arugula spinach, or other tender greens, roughly chopped
1/2 cup largely diced cucumber
1/4 cup fresh mint leaves, torn
1/2 cup feta cheese
1/2 cup sliced almonds

In a small saucepan, bring vinegar, sugar and a pinch of salt to a simmer over medium heat. Stir until the sugar dissolves. Add shallots, stir, cover and remove from heat. Allow to cool for about 30 minutes. Drain and roughly chop shallots. Set aside.

Whisk together the oil, lemon juice, mustard, red pepper flakes, and salt in a large bowl. Add couscous, arugula, mint, cucumber, 1/4 cup feta, 1/4 cup almonds, and shallots. Toss gently. Season with salt and pepper and transfer to a pretty bowl. Sprinkle the remaining 1/4 cup of feta and almonds. Add a squeeze of lemon juice over the salad. Serve chilled or at room temperature.

**Pickle shallots before making couscous to save time. They'll keep for a few weeks in the fridge. 

06 April 2017

Cocktails for These Political Times: so, do we still have healthcare?

I was trying to remember when the whole Trumpcare debacle happened, and although it seems like at least thirteen controversies ago, it was just on March 24!  And I didn't even make a toast! So, this one's for all of my self-employed friends, many of whom are entertaining you with their amazing music/art/acting/dancing skills, teaching your children self-esteem and pride in a job well done, and making absolutely no contributions to the destruction of this world.  For the record, I always believed you deserve medical care.  Congrats on keeping it a bit longer. I added some juice for extra vitamins.

Healthcare, Hell Yeah!

Makes 1 drink

5 ounces unsweetened blueberry juice
2 ounces plain vodka
sugar to taste
fresh blueberries
coarse sugar for rim of glass

Wet the rim of a chilled martini glass with vodka. Place coarse sugar on a plate, rub the edge of the glass with sugar to coat. Taste your blueberry juice to see how sweet it is. Add ice,vodka, blueberry juice & sweetener (if needed) to a martini shaker. Shake & strain into sugar rimmed martini glass. Float fresh blueberries on the top of the cocktail.
* You could totally replace the vodka with sparkling water (in which case, don't shake!) if you're scared you're about to lose your health insurance.

31 March 2017

Lentil + Cheese + Rice = Love

I love lentils and rice all the time, but I also love cheese, and sometimes the two get combined.  I don't know what else to say about this--it's a snap to make, leftovers are delish, and it's super filling. Just go make it. 

Cheesy Lentils and Rice

Serves 4

2-2/3 cups vegetable broth
3/4 cup dried lentils, rinsed
3/4 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup uncooked rice
1/4 cup dry white wine or additional broth
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1 cup (4 ounces) shredded mozarella, divided

In a bowl, combine the first 11 ingredients; stir in 1/2 cup cheese. Transfer to a 1-1/2-qt. baking dish coated with cooking spray. Cover and bake at 350° for 1-1/2 to 2 hours or until lentils and rice are tender and liquid is absorbed, stirring twice. Uncover; sprinkle with remaining cheese. Bake 2-3 minutes longer or until cheese is melted. Yield: 4 servings.