Saturday, December 11, 2010

Exotic Fruit Spectacular: QUINCE

 While at the supermarket the other day, I saw a strange fruit that looked like the offspring of an ugly pair. This fruit was a Quince. My first reaction was this is a pretty damn ugly fruit, and my second thought was, what the hell is a quince?
 Ugly Quince ($1.00)
The quince is  predominantly an Asian fruit. Related to the pear and apple, they are grown throughout the Caucasus, the Middle East, and in my quinces case, California. Quinces are normally cooked for at least an hour in a sugary solution. This turns them a nice pink color and the quince is then supposedly quite tasty.  One of there more popular uses is that they are turned into a jam or jelly.
Cooked Quince Made Into A Jam
 Well having not done my research on how to prepare and eat a quince properly beforehand, I broke out the knife, gathered the coworkers, and tasted a quince in its raw form.
   The quince had the texture of a dry pear, not at all juicy. The flavor was of a slightly bitter apple. Really it was all in all pretty dry and bland. Which explains why they are usually not eaten raw.
 So reader beware, don't buy a quince like myself thinking you can just munch on it like an apple or pear. There is some preparation needed, and from all accounts, they are pretty good once cooked properly.


Raw Quince:  2/10

Monday, November 29, 2010

IKEA Swedish Feast

 Ikea, is known as a store that sells moderately priced furniture that you put together yourself. Everything  has quite the European flair to it, being that Ikea is based out of Sweden, and most of their designers are Swedish. The store itself is immense, and you can take a few hours to wonder around its entirety. Hell, the first time I went to Ikea, I could not find my way out of the damn place. This coming from someone who holds one the quickest times ever for the night time land navigation course at Ft.Knox Kentucky. One of the cool things at Ikea is that they have a restaurant inside serving up Swedish food. I'm guessing this is mainly for the people that spend days in Ikea not being able to find there way out. Having talked to a friend that eats at Ikea on occasion,due to his workplace being nearby, the food served is very reasonably priced and tastes pretty good. They also have a section that sells frozen and refrigerated Swedish food items to take home. So in my demented mind I thought, what would be better then to make a Swedish meal with food bought from Ikea? So here is what I bought.
 1 bag of Swedish Meatballs
 2 packs of dried cream sauce to place the meatballs in
 1 Jar of Lingonberry Jam (A traditional accompaniment to Swedish meatballs)
 1 Can of Fish Balls ( not actual fish testicles, but a mixture of cod fish and potato in ball form)
 1 box of Potato Patties
 I cant remember what the price of each item was individually but the entire total for my Swedish feast came in under $15.00.

 The meatballs were easy enough to cook, needing to only be reheated. For this I poured the bag of meatballs into a big Le Creuset iron enameled pot. My first impression was "WOW, this is a shitload of meatballs".  I added a little olive oil to help brown the meatballs
Swedish Balls
   The sauce was easy to make as well. Ikea recommends 2 sauce packets for each bag of meatballs, so that is what I made. The sauce calls for just adding milk with the packet of dry mix and stirring over heat. To flavor up the sauce a little, I added 2 tablespoons of butter, and a little bit of Garam Masala seasoning. The Garam Masala adds a little complexity to the sauce, and the main ingredient of Garam Masala, Cardamon, is often used when making traditional Swedish meatballs.
Making the Sauce

Once the sauce was heated, and had thickened up a bit, I poured it over the meatballs.
Yum Yum Yum

 The Potato patties were frozen and came 8 to a box. They were also easy to cook as well, only needing browned up with a little butter in a saute pan.

The fish balls were a little bit of a challenge for me in that I have never cooked fish balls before. But I figured why not brown them up the same way I had cooked the potato patties. To accompany the fish balls I made a little bit of tartar sauce,using mayo,dill, onion, dill pickle relish, salt and pepper.
Fiskbullar Buljong ( Fish Balls)

  So how did everything taste?
 The Swedish Meatballs were superb. Being rich and flavorful. The lingonberry  jam made an excellent accompaniment to the meatballs. Lingonberries taste a lot like cranberries, so when you mix a little with the meatballs, you get that Thanksgiving flavor that you get when you mix cranberry sauce with turkey and stuffing.
 The potato patties were decent. Being pretty much your standard potato pancake. By themselves they were not very remarkable, but when dipped into the meatball sauce they were pretty good.
 The fish balls were the low-light of the meal as I expected. They tasted similar to imitation crab meat (Surimi) with a very weird gelatinous texture, plus they were a little fishier tasting. Even my great tartar sauce could not rescue these things. While they were not throw up in your mouth bad, they just were not all that impressive. Hell, you might as well saute up a real fish fillet if you want fish.
Swedish Feast = Nom Nom Nom
  Really cant complain about this meal. For under $15.00 dollars you could feed 6 people, and have fish balls left over to feed the dog. When I go back to Ikea, I will without hesitation grab some more meatballs and sauce. The fish balls will be substituted with something else however.

Swedish Meatballs and Sauce:   9/10

Potato Patties:  6/10

Fish Balls: 4/10 

2001 Park Manor Blvd.
Robinson Town Centre
Pittsburgh, PA 15205

Store hours:
Monday - Saturday:
10am - 9pm
Sunday: 10am - 7pm

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

P.F. Changs China Bistro

  P.F. Changs is a chain of Chinese style restaurants with locations throughout the USA. Their little niche is to provide typical American/Chinese food in a somewhat upscale environment, at reasonable prices.
 Before going to see the epic soon to be Oscar nominated film Jackass in 3D at the theater, my two buddies and I caught some dinner at  P.F. Changs. The restaurant is very ornate with a big ass horse statue out front, and huge modern style chandeliers in the main dining room.

Having made reservations online, we were quickly seated and our server brought us out assorted sauces to use on our food as we saw fit.  The sauces included Thai Chili Sauce, Hot Mustard, Soy Sauce, Rice Wine Vinegar, Chili Oil, and Gyoza Sauce.


My friends ordered the P.F. Changs for Two ($39.95) which includes soup, appetizer, an entree, and dessert. Their order included Hot & Sour Soup, Chicken Lettuce Wraps, Mongolian Beef, Changs Spicy Chicken, and two mini desserts, Lemon Curd something or other, and Tiramisu. For my order I got the Pan Fried Pork Dumplings and the Singapore Street Noodles. Being like a bunch of old women, and for the sake of this blog, we shared everything between all three of us.

  First up was the Hot and Sour soup, to me it tasted very smoky with hints of a tobacco like flavor. My eating companions thought it was pretty decent but I couldn't really get over the strange tobacco taste.

Hot and Sour Soup

The Chicken Lettuce wraps were an excellent appetizer, and would make a great entree for one person. Ground up chicken spiced with soy and Asian spices was placed on a platter along with crisp rice noodles.
Chicken Lettuce Wraps
Chicken Lettuce Wrap In Action
You spooned the chicken and noodles onto the lettuce wrap and dug in. The lettuce was crisp and the chicken was moist and tasted great. The crisp noodles added a little bit of texture to the filling. Nothing to complain about here.

 The Pan Fried Pork Dumplings were also good. The dough was slightly crispy. While the pork and vegetable mixture inside was moist and  flavorful with the tastes of soy, ginger, and garlic. The dumplings had enough flavor and saltiness that there was no reason to dip them in the accompanying gyoza sauce, which is a spiced soy sauce.
Pan Fried Pork Dumplings ($5.95)

 The Mongolian Beef was tender slices of beef with green onions in a Chinese style brown sauce. While not as spicy as some Mongolian Beefs that I have had in the past, this version was pretty good when spooned over the rice that accompanied the dish.

Mongolian Beef
Chang's Spicy Chicken was not really all that spicy. This is P.F. Changs version of General Tso's Chicken according to the menu. While the sauce was sweet and slightly savory, it could have used a little bit more hot chili pepper to zaz it up. The chicken itself was perfectly cooked, being crispy, and not to heavily breaded. Unlike normal General Tso's chicken, this was all white meat chicken, not thigh meat, as is traditionally used in General Tso's.
Chang's Spicy Chicken

The Singapore Street Noodles were disappointing  to me. The noodles were cooked in a curry sauce which in itself was pretty good. There also was a good amount of shrimp and chicken mixed in with the noodles. The problem was all the cilantro, lemon grass, cabbage, onions, tomatoes and carrots included in the dish. It made the dish a little to busy as far as all the different flavors going on. Plus biting into whole pieces of lemongrass and cilantro is not the most pleasant thing in the world. If they would have used a little less cilantro and lemongrass as well as dicing it into the dish cut a little more finely, the noodles would have been better.
Singapore Street Noodles ($9.95)

 The desserts were tasty yet comically small. Three spoonfuls and you were done. The Tiramisu was your  typical layers of cake soaked in espresso, placed upon layers of mascarpone cream.
 The Lemon dessert was a tart lemon curd layered with whipped cream and shortbread crumbs.
 Both were good yet so small that any enjoyment from them was short lived.

Lemon Something Or Other

P.F.Changs is good for what it tries to do. A chain restaurant, with decent food, and a nice atmosphere for socializing with your friends. If I had to choose between getting takeout between P.F. Changs and a number of local Chinese restaurants such as Sesame Inn or China Star, I would take the local Chinese, due to the larger portions and spicier fare. P.F Changs wont kill you in the wallet either however, there food is modestly priced compared to some of the national chain restaurants.
 While I wouldn't make a trip out of my way to go to a P.F. Changs. It makes for a nice dinner if you are in the area going to a movie,club,bar, etc.

 Special props go to our server who didn't deliver much food but was flirtatious and pleasant. Its always nice to have my tip go to someone who has a knack for making a bunch of middle aged men feel like Greek gods.


Hot and Sour Soup:  5/10
Chicken Lettuce Wraps:  8/10
Pork Pot Stickers:  7/10
Mongolian Beef:  7/10
Chang's Spicy Chicken: 7/10
Singapore Street Noodles:  5/10
Desserts:  5/10 (Tasty but to small)

 Overall:  6.5/10

P.F. Changs China Bistro
 Settlers Ridge
1600 Settlers Ridge Center Dr.
Robinson Township, PA 15205

P.F. Chang's China Bistro - Settlers Ridge on Urbanspoon

This post is dedicated to my pet/friend/co-taster of the past 16 years, Fuzz, who passed away last week.  She will always have a place in my heart.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Taj Mahal Restaurant

  Taj Mahal is the most popular Indian restaurant in the North Hills of Pittsburgh. A lot of its popularity is due to the fact for the longest time it was the only Indian restaurant in the North Hills. There is a new Indian restaurant in Cranberry, but  competition is still limited in the Northern area of Pittsburgh.
 My experiences in the past with the Taj Mahal have all been pleasant. The lunch buffet in particular is very good, with a chance to sample a lot of different Indian dishes, as well as desserts.


  For this review I ordered takeout. My order included the following: Galouti Lamb Patties, Naan Bread Basket, Chicken Tikka Masala, and Lamb Shami Korma. When I placed my order over the phone I was told the food would be ready in a 1/2 hour. Also I ordered all my food mildly spiced as I have found that in the past at the Taj Mahal, even medium heat is pretty damn hot, and tends to take away from the overall flavor of the food. When I went to pick up the food, I had to wait about 5 more minutes. During this time I looked in their dessert case at all the interesting desserts. If you have never had any Indian desserts, let me sum them up for you in two words, very sweet. From  honey soaked balls of pastry, to Jalebis which resemble a pure sugar funnel cake of sorts, your sugar tooth will be satisfied and then some.

 So to start off  we have the Naan Bread Basket. 
Naan Bread Basket  $6.99
  What you get is 3 different Naan breads, which are pretty much flat unleavened bread, cooked in a clay oven. The 3 breads were Butter Naan, Garlic Naan, and Aloo Paratha (bread stuffed with mildly spiced potatoes). All were pretty decent, but my only complaint was that the Garlic Naan had a little to much cilantro in it. Cilantro in moderation is a great spice, but when used to liberally, it can overwhelm the flavor of any food its with.

Next up the Galouti Lamb Patties.
Galouti Lamb Patties  $10.50

These were patties of ground up lamb meat, nicely spiced. You could taste flavors of lemon,corriander, cumin and cilantro in the patties. The patties were  moist and flavorful. An Indian style hamburger is pretty much what you get here. My eating companion thought some type of sauce would have gone good with the patties, while not elaborating on what type. You receive 3 patties and a plethora of grilled green peppers and onions.

Chicken Tikka Masala

Chicken Tikka Masala  $10.50
This has always been my personal favorite at the Taj Mahal. It is pieces of marinaded chicken from a tandoori oven, in a creamy tomato based sauce. The sauce itself was excellent with flavors of tomato and Indian spices,while the chunks of chicken were moist and perfectly cooked. The dish comes with basmati rice which you spoon the tikka masala over. If you have never had basmati rice, Taj Mahal makes some of the best. No Chinese restaurants rice can compare to how good this rice is. Taj Mahal's basmati rice is not at all clumpy and smells slightly of popcorn. It is a treat in itself. This Chicken Tikka Masala is pretty much perfect. Its also a great dish to start people off that have never had Indian food before.

Lastly the Lamb Shami Korma
Lamb Shami Korma  $10.99

 This dish is boneless lamb pieces in a cashew and almond sauce. The sauce was creamy and slightly sweet with flavors of coconut and Indian Spice. Im not sure if there is coconut milk in the dish or whether the ground almonds and cashews give it  that coconut flavor. The pieces of lamb were tender and juicy. Lots of flavors going on in this dish, yet it is very mild. Having not tried this before I was very pleasantly surprised. Now that I know of this dish, Im going to have a hard time deciding between this and the Chicken Tikka Masala. My eating companion thought this was the best Indian Dish that she had ever had. Once again this was served with Basmati rice in which the korma was spooned over top.
The entire meal
   Each order had about three servings of food leaving enough for leftovers to be reheated in the future. Without hesitation I would recommend the Taj Mahal Restaurant.  If you get the chance try to hit them up during there buffet. That way you can see which dishes you enjoy. For Vegans there is an astronomical amount of dishes to choose from. Prices are reasonable for the amount of food you receive. So if your in the North Hills, on Mcknight Rd, stop by and give the Taj Mahal a try.

 Naan Bread Basket:      6/10
 Galouti Lamb Patties:   7/10
 Chicken Tikka Masala: 9/10
 Lamb Shami Korma:     9/10 

 OVERALL     8/10

 Taj Mahal Restaurant 
  7795 McKnight Road
  Pittsburgh PA 15237 
  (412) 364-1760


Taj Mahal on Urbanspoon

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Holiday Eggnog

 Eggnog in one form or another has been around since the 18th century. In Europe eggnog was a concoction of different wines,eggs, and cream. In the 13 colonies, rum and rye whiskey were much more prevalent throughout society then wine, being much cheaper and readily available. So the colonists used rum and whiskey in their eggnog rather then wine. Rum was also known as grog so you can get an idea of how the word eggnog was derived from the words egg and grog.
 One of the biggest fans of eggnog was George Washington who supposedly "devised his own recipe that included rye whiskey, rum and sherry. It was reputed to be a stiff drink that only the most courageous were willing to try".
I Love Eggnog

 The recipe I use comes from an expatriate living in Shanghai China in the 1920s who used to attend a yearly Christmas party that would have the greatest eggnog he had ever had. After 7 years of wrangling he finally got the recipe out of the host.
  This recipe should be made at least 3 weeks minimum before consumption, and actually is even better if you age it for a year. Dont worry about spoilage there is enough alcohol in the eggnog to make it stable, but just to be safe I age mine in the refrigerator instead of  a cool cellar.

So without further ado here is the recipe.


For the eggnog:

  • 12 large eggs
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1 quart (4 1/2 cups) whole milk
  • 1 liter (about 3-4 cups) of good bourbon, such as Jim Beam. (Use Rye for historical authenticity)
  • 1/2 cup Myers’s dark rum
  • 1/2 to 1 cup good Cognac or other brandy
  • Pinch kosher salt
  • 1 whole nutmeg
1. Separate egg yolks from the whites.
2. Mix sugar with egg yolks  till smooth and frothy.
3. Add the rest of the liquid ingredients and a pinch of salt, whisk until well combined.
4. Age the eggnog in your fridge for a minimum of 3 weeks the longer the better.
5. Grate nutmeg over eggnog when serving.

There you have it, a fantastic eggnog recipe that I hope you will give a try for your holiday festivities.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Ben & Jerry's Carrot Cake Ice Cream

Ben & Jerry's was founded in 1978 in a renovated gas station in Burlington Vermont after Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield completed a correspondence course on ice cream making from Penn State University. Since then they have become one of the most successful ice cream purveyors in the world, with their success being based on unique flavors and providing large donations from their sales to various social causes throughout the world.
Hey dude, pass the Magic Brownies

ONE Cheesecake Brownie
Some of my favorite flavors in the past have included One Cheesecake Brownie, Smores, and Dave Mathews Magic Brownies.

 So you can imagine my delight when I came across Carrot Cake, an exclusive flavor. Your probably wondering how I came into a flavor so exclusive that its not even mentioned on the Ben & Jerry's web site. Lets just say that when your a high powered food blogger whose reviews can crush a product and rattle the entire food industry establishment, companies tend to be nice and send out samples for review.
  The Carrot Cake flavor is made up of caramel ice cream, cream cheese icing swirl, and pieces of, you guessed it, carrot cake. The flavors really worked well together in this. The caramel ice cream was indulgently creamy and sweet with not the slightest bit of iciness or water which is a sure sign of a cheap ice cream. The cream cheese icing was swirled throughout, and gave a nice background flavor. The star of the show is the pieces of carrot cake. I just love it when you get pieces of  cake or brownie in your ice cream. It gives the ice cream a much better mouth feel due to not getting just plain ice cream in every bite. The carrot cake pieces were spongy and nicely spiced in the typical way with cinnamon, cloves,etc.

 Ben & Jerrys once again hits a home run with their Carrot Cake Ice Cream. While there are no real surprises as far as the flavors go, everything works well with each other. Just imagine eating some carrot cake with ice cream on top, and there you have Ben & Jerry's Carrot Cake Ice Cream.

Ben & Jerry's Carrot Cake Ice Cream

Sunday, October 10, 2010

China Star Restaurant

There has been a lot of talk recently of a relatively new Chinese Restaurant in the North Hills area. China Star has been getting a lot of positive word of mouth for their authentic Chinese menu. China Star has your typical American/Chinese hybrid menu, but they also have a special menu with specialties of the Sichuan region of China. Some of the specialties include Tan Tan Noodles, and Tea Smoked Duck.

Before getting into the review, I am just getting over the flu, so I decided not to be to adventurous this time around, and I decided to order some of the more traditional items off there regular Menu. My order included Cold Sesame Noodles, Pork Egg Foo Young, and General Tso's Chicken. Called in my order for takeout and was told it would be ready in 30 minutes.  A half hour later I arrived and found my food waiting for me. The restaurant had quite a few people waiting for tables when I arrived. The dining room is rather small so expect a wait on Friday nights if you plan on eating at the restaurant.

Cold Sesame Noodles $3.95
Well to start off I tried out the Cold Sesame Noodles. These wound up being the highlight of my meal.  These were your typical oriental rice flour noodles, but the sauce that these noodles came in was excellent. The sauce was Thai influenced with flavors of garlic, peanuts, sesame, and red chili oil. All of these flavors accompanied the noodles nicely. The noodles are also available hot for those that prefer it. My thought when I finished these noodles was damn I should have got two of these. 
Pork Egg Foo Young $8.95

Next up was the Pork Egg Foo Young. The Foo Young came in a portion of 4 large patties accompanied by an oriental brown sauce. The sauce tasted like a typical brown gravy with notes of soy, ginger and garlic.  The Foo Young patties were full of napa cabbage, carrots, sprouts, a generous amount of pork, and heaven forbid peas. As a note, your beloved reviewer hates peas. Dont know why, its always been that way for me. Sorry, cant help it. Despite the peas best effort to ruin the Foo Young, I found it to be one of the better Egg Foo Young's that I have tried. Being that I did not want to go through the whole dish avoiding those disgusting little green things, I gave it to my Mother. She was also of the opinion that the Egg Foo Young was very good, and she even ate the peas.
General Tso's Chicken $9.95
 The General Tso's Chicken was the biggest disappointment of the meal. The serving was a generous amount, enough  to feed two people. The sauce was typical of a General Tso's sauce, sweet, and slightly spicy. Matter of fact I was wishing that it could have been a little more spicy. The chicken in my opinion had a little too much batter on it, which led to the chicken being more gummy then crispy. The General Tso's at the Sesame Inn down McKnight Rd from China Star is the gold standard for this dish, and this version of General Tso's just didn't measure up.

 In conclusion I found my dishes from China Star to be pretty darn tasty. Im looking forward to going back for another order of their Sesame Noodles, and I think I will try something off their authentic Sichuan menu.


Cold Sesame Noodles: 9/10 

Pork Egg Foo Young: 7/10

General Tso's Chicken: 5/10

OVERALL: 7/10 

China Star Restaurant
100 McIntyre Square
7900 McKnight Road
Pittsburgh, PA 15237

China Star on Urbanspoon

Monday, September 27, 2010

Buitoni Shrimp and Lobster Ravioli with Garlic Butter Sauce

 This Shrimp and Lobster Ravioli is part of Buitoni's new Riserva line of frozen entrees.  Some of the other entrees in this line include Chicken and Mushroom Ravioli in a Marsala Wine Sauce, and Five Cheese Canneloni.

Garlic Butter Sauce Packet
  The best part about this dish is how easy it is to make. All you need to do is get a pot of boiling water. The ravioli comes in one bag, and the garlic butter sauce comes in another.  Just empty the bag of ravioli into the boiling water, throw in the packet with the garlic butter sauce, and in about 5 minutes your meal is ready to be served.

Boiling the Raviolis
     The flavor of the entire entree I found to be underwhelming. The Garlic butter sauce was bland with only slight hints of garlic. The raviolis were also quite bland, with the filling being quite flavorless. It's taste seemed very much like a combination of ricotta cheese and fish.
Finished Entree

 While this entree is convenient to make, I found the flavor to be lacking. That combined with the high price tag of $9.00, and I really cant recommend this entree from Buitoni. If you happen to find it on sale for under $6.00, it would make an ok option as a quick dinner for two. Just make sure to add some needed spices and some grated Italian cheese to the sauce.

Buitoni Shrimp and Lobster Ravioli: