Sunday, February 19, 2012

Home Cookin': Bacon Wrapped Cod

I'm so thankful for PID. He is such a patient and wonderful man who is kind enough to cook dinner for us most nights. His backwards schedule allows him to be home around 3:15, so it makes sense that way. But recently we've been training for the Pittsburgh Half Marathon together which means running instead of eating when I get home from work. This has been a blessing in disguise because, while we're eating a bit later, it gives me the opportunity to get back into the kitchen.

This week we forgot to thaw out meat before leaving in the morning, so we dug through the freezer to find something -- anything -- that would de-thaw quickly.  I found some mystery white fish. Perfect.  Now what in the world to do with it...

I opened up both refrigerator doors and stared blankly for a moment or two before the bacon caught my eye.

The night's menu instantly developed in my head: bacon-wrapped "Mystery Fish" with a stone-ground mustard beurre blanc on a bed of wilted swiss chard and wild rice.

I should admit that I don't just go around dreaming of beurre blancs. When I saw the bacon, I had vaguely remembered seeing a recipe in my Cook like a Top Chef cookbook that would work. So I channeled Chef Hosea on this one and began by pre-heating the oven to 350 degrees.

Here's what you'll need for the fish:
4 pieces of flaky white fish (like Cod, Halibut, Arctic Char or Mahi Mahi) about 4-6 oz each
4-6 slices of bacon (I would NOT recommend using Turkey Bacon)
2 tbs Canola oil
salt and pepper

Here's what you'll need for the beurre blanc:
1 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 green onion
12 peppercorns (I used 4 black, 4 green and 4 white)
1 large bay leaf
1/4 cup heavy cream
1.5 sticks of unsalted butter, chilled and cubed
2 tablespoons stone-ground mustard

Here's what you'll need for the bed:
8 stalks fresh swiss chard
lemon juice
extra virgin olive oil
1/4 dry white cooking wine
salt and pepper
1 package Uncle Ben's 90-Second Ready Rice Long Grain & Wild

Prepare your fish first by seasoning your fish with salt and pepper, wrapping each piece in bacon and seasoning again.

Then set aside and get started on your beurre blanc. That may seem a bit backwards, but of all of the items, the sauce takes the longest.

In a medium saucepan, heat your wine, lemon juice, onion, bay leaf and peppercorns over medium heat, reducing until noticeably syrupy.

Next, add your heavy cream and reduce to a thick, milky sauce.

Here's where i'd suggest getting started on your fish. Heat your oil on medium-high heat in an oven-safe saute pan and, when it's screeching hot, sear your fish until your bacon darkens and your fish reaches a golden brown, flipping for even cooking -- about 4 minutes per side.

Keep an eye on your fish and when they reach their desired color, transfer your pan into the oven, roasting until just cooked through, about 2-3 minutes.

While your fish is searing and your beurre blanc is reducing, heat your olive oil in a large dutch oven on medium heat, then add your white wine, swiss chard, lemon juice, salt and pepper and steam for 2-3 minutes.

Next, toss your rice in the microwave for 1:30. That's the easy part.

Now it's back to your beurre blanc (while still keeping an eye on your fish).  Add your butter, a few cubes at a time, whisking until fully incorporated.

Strain the sauce through a sifter into a new saucepan, add the mustard, stir and keep warm on low heat.

When your fish is ready, remove it from the oven and cover with aluminum foil or a high lid while prepping your plate.

Layer your swiss chard, rice and fish on top of one another, then drizzle your beurre blanc across the fish and the plate...

...and ENJOY!!!!

I may have written this recipe in a roundabout way, but I know that I always have a hard time properly timing my cooking and I was hoping this may help you to prioritize. To clarify the beurre blanc recipe, here it is all at once:

Heat wine, lemon juice, peppercorns, bay leaf and onion on medium-high heat in a medium saucepan, reducing until syrupy. Add heavy cream and reduce to a thick sauce. Add butter cubes and whisk until fully incorporated, then strain into a new saucepan and add mustard. Keep warm. Be patient with the reductions, they take quite a few minutes to reach their proper consistencies.

This recipe didn't take long at all and was a fairly simple execution -- and was utterly delicious! It also feels pretty cool to be able to say I made a beurre blanc....and it wasn't hard at all! Top Chef Blake?  Ya never know...

What's your favorite sauce to brag about having made?

Monday, February 13, 2012

TOP-Ten Most Romantic Restaurants, 2012

So, tomorrow is Valentine's Day, huh?  THANKS FOR LETTING ME KNOW, WORLD!

Many of you have been viewing my 2011 list as to no doubt plan for the big day and I have to apologize for not updating it this year until now! I may have been preoccupied recently, but I guess a last-minute post on some of our top-picks for this year's most romantic restaurants falls under the term "better late than never." Here are PID's and my top choices for 2012 and a quick bite as to why:

#10 Cioppino
If your sweety is a cigar aficionado, then Cioppino will be a special treat.  With an amazing "old school" cigar room, delicious wine menu and a romantic ambiance -- complete with more than occasional live musical performances -- Cioppino is a great place to balance "his" and "hers" date desires.

#9 Casbah
If you're looking for a completely romantic phsyical setting, then Casbah is your golden goose. One of my favorite beautiful indoor dining experiences in the 'burgh. They have a special Valentine's Day tasting menu but beware -- the special menus are like Sirens: beautiful but deadly (to your wallet, anyway: delicious but small portions for a very high cost).

#8 Ibiza
What better way to prove your love for one another than with tapas? Ibiza is one of my favorite tapas experiences in the city with surprisingly substantial portion sizes that are delicious to boot.  The floor-to-ceiling windows provide for a great view and the semi-enclosed back patio is extremely romantic.

#7 Girasole
This outstanding little authentic-feeling hole-in-the-wall gem is a versatile solution to your valentine's Day.  Not only is it an intimate and romantic setting for a date, but it's one of my very favorite "girls night out" locations, mere steps away from the adult-entertainment of Shadyside proper.  PID and I haven't reviewed it, but you can trust my female F.O.R.Ts and I that this place is worth checking out whether you're trying to impress a Valentine or trying to avoid the holiday and kick back with your ladies!

#6 Willow
Willow drops from #1 to #6 on my "most romantic restaurants" list this year, but I can't remove it altogether. In my mind, it's still by far the most beautiful and unique restaurant in the greater Pittsburgh -- tucked away in the woods (which are, no doubt, beautifully snowcrest at this point), you and your honey can cozy up by one of many fire places in this amazingly romantic establishment. Under new management, their menu has changed slightly (and sadly not necessarily for the better) since our first visit, but it's still delicious and outstanding!

#5 Braddocks American Brasserie
We've never reviewed it officially, and that's just a shame.  After visiting Braddock's on Light Up Night back in November, PID and I immediately fell in love (with the restaurant, duh). I vowed to give this place 4 rousing stars, but my busy schedule got the best of me and never could.  Their prix-fixe menu is to-die-for and, on the first floor of the famous Renaissance Hotel it's a great "eat and stay" date night. Let your valentine go to bed full and satisfied (no jokes, here) and wake up to the beautiful view of the Allegheny River!

#4 1796 Room
Looking for another "getaway" Valentine's celebration? Make a reservation (no seriously, DO IT NOW!) for an overnight stay at the Bedford Springs Resort and Spa only 1.5 hours east of Pittsburgh and make dinner reservations (early) for 1796.  The place is completely unique and historical with a winning wine list.  You'll win mega points for this trip and dinner.  Trust me on this one.

#3 Paris 66
It's intimate, it's BYOB, it's French. Get ready to be transported directly to a Parisian cafe the moment you step inside this place.  Perfect for the wannabe travelers, Paris 66 offers everything from savory french dishes to delicious sweet crepes.  And the best part? You can bring your very best and very favorite wine for only a small corking fee. LOVE IT! They, too, have a Valentine's tasting menu, but hurry! The dining room is small and fills up fast!

#2 Soba
Two floors of pure romance, this place screams "let's makeout later!" Everything from the intimate lighting, to the fountain wall, to the friendly and informative staff makes this place the ideal date spot. Their menu leans toward Asian cuisine, but has delicious options for any diner.  My one piece of advice? DON'T forgo dessert.

#1 Grand Concourse
Ate here once, many moons ago with mama and papa TOP and couldn't help but think: this is like, the most beautiful restaurant with the best view ever. It needed to make #1 on the list because after just one visit, I've never forgotten it and hear nothing but amazing things about the food above and beyond the crablegs I devoured and loved.  Dear PID, please take me here.

So there you have it.  The world of Pittsburgh romance in 2012.  What have I missed? What do you disagree with?  Where would you like to see us eat this year to add to the list next year? And most of all...where did YOU celebrate the day of love?  I'd love to hear from you!

Thursday, February 9, 2012


PID and I had no intentions of dining out this week. You see, we've recently reviewed our bank statements (specifically, our restaurant expenditures) over the past 30 days and...let's just say the figure was less than flattering.

But when an empty fridge prohibited us from cooking a suitable meal at home we decided to dig into our coupon vault and pick a dinner option.  Originally we chose the Olive Garden (we had a gift card), thinking it would be an in-and-out destination. CHA! Yeah right! we squeezed our way past what felt like a thousand people waiting and quickly turned down the hour and a half wait.

After a brief huddle, we decided on Capstone Grill on Rt. 19 in McMurray.  We called ahead to check on their wait situation. We were told it would be 40 minutes, but with their call-ahead seating service we would have priority over any walk-ins who come in after our call and we should be able to slide in relatively soon after arriving. So we made the 27 minute trek.

When I walked in the door, the smell of seared scallops engulfed me.  PID had eaten here only once before and raved about it for weeks, and this powerfully delectable scent was everything he described and more.  But alas, our table was "not quite ready," and so we had to wait. And wait. And wait. All in all, we waited for 78 minutes. Not quite what we were expecting (or told).  At 8:05 I looked at PID and said "if we're not the next name called, we're getting Taco Shop and calling it a night.  Lucky for us, we WERE up next.

With hints of both desperation and exasperation in our voices, PID and I ordered the appetizers we'd known we'd wanted for the past 54 minutes, Bruschetta and Crab Stuffed Mushrooms.

After one bite, I immediately regretted my angst-filled post to Foursquare complaining about the wait and was worth it.

Tomato Bruschetta with Basil Aioli, $5.25

The bruschetta was bursting with flavor.  The basil aioli was extremely refreshing and PID and I were shocked at the perfection of the toasted ciabatta.  It was not too overdone and not to underdone, so it didn't fall apart/mutilate the roofs of our mouths (folks, it's happened), but still had a slight crunch to it.  Belisimo!

Crab stuffed mushrooms, $8.50

The crab-stuffed mushrooms were excellent. The first thing I've noticed was that this was real, honest-to-God crab meat.  Sadly, I've experienced many a stuffed-mushroom which didn't use the real stuff and it just doesn't measure up.  Served hot and steamy, this appetizer really hit the spot. Which was dying to be, well played.

As we were waiting for these delicious appetizers, I began perusing the drink menu and -- although I had no real intentions of imbibing -- a certain martini caught my eye.  I've always been a sucker for an good apple-tini, but this one touted a caramel apple twist. Sold! The drink, which was composed of apple schnapps, butterscotch schnapps, three olives vodka and a hint of cinnamon, was delivered in a stemless martini glass, set in a bowl of ice water. How classy!

Caramel Apple Martini, $9.50

Unfortunately I think mine had a touch too much butterscotch schnapps. But it had the makings of an excellent cocktail!

After a moment or two, freshly baked bread and red pepper oil, a salad with raspberry balsamic vinaigrette and Capstone's famous (and rightfully so, I've discovered) Clam Chowder arrived at the table. And away we nommed.

New England Clam Chowder

We moved on quickly to our entrees (it was LATE, after all) and boy were we pleased.  I'd heard nothing but excellent things about the seafood, so I knew I wanted to try some fish.  What's great about Capstone is that you can pick from a list of many fish options and then from another extensive list of preparations.  This was beyond exciting to me...but overwhelming.  Our adorable and knowledgeable server Robin did an outstanding job of steering me in the right direction once I let her in on my fish of choice.  And so, I was served an order of Swordfish -- Thai Chilli BBQ style with a puff of wasabi.

Teriyaki Swordfish, $16

The dish was served with a side corn concoction with cilantro and tomatoes and was by far one of the best side dishes I've had in a while -- as I'm sure you can tell, since I don't normally talk about sides at all.  Cuz they're sides. And stuff.

Tomato cilantro roast corn 

But, as expected, the Swordfish was the star of the show here.  Seared to perfection, this fish was less of a flaky white fish and took on a texture more reminiscent of an excellent cut of steak. It was more meaty and substantial.  I definitely suggest it for folks who want to ease their way into eating fish.  The spiciness of the Thai chillies and saltiness of the soy married excellently with the bite of the wasabi when I mixed them all together on the plate like a 5-year old coloring project gone horribly wrong. This dish? Delish.

14 oz. Sirloin with Horseradish & Bleu Cheese, $21.95

PID had eaten the famed seafood at Capstone before, so the lingering growl in his tummy swayed him to order a giant hunk of cow to switch things up a bit.  He originally wanted the NY Strip, but sadly -- being that it was nearly 9 p.m. when we ordered -- they were fresh out.  Reluctantly he went for the Sirloin instead (14 oz. portion at that -- my darling growing boy...) but was pleasantly surprised.  Sure it was a bit fatty -- what sirloin isn't?  But it was just the right amount of fat to seal in that delicious juicy flavor. Even though the dish was served with a horseradish cream sauce, he forked over the $1.75 and topped his steak with crumbled bleu cheese -- what an incredible decision.  One of my favorite flavor combinations...ON THE PLANET.  He definitely enjoyed.

Restaurant Info:
The Capstone Grill
Address: 4050 Washington Rd, McMurray PA
Phone: (724) 941-1009
Reservations: Not taken, but you can call ahead for expedited seating (if you're lucky).  On weekends, get here at LEAST an hour before you plan on eating anything at all.
Price: $$$

Cliffs Notes:
2 Diet Pepsi's @ $2.49
Tomato Bruschetta @ $5.25
Crab-stuffed Mushrooms @ $8.50
Caramel Apple Martini @ 9.50
6 oz. Swordfish (which came with salad and roast corn) @ $16.00
14 oz. Sirloin (which came with Clam Chowder) @ $21.95
Add bleu cheese @ $1.75
Tax (6% in Washington County): $3.51
Living Social coupon @ -$40.00
Tip @  $15.00 (a good TOPper always tips on the full amount)
Total for 2: $46.44

Overall Opinion:
Despite the fact that we waited...and waited.......and WAITED after being told it would be 30-40 minutes, we really enjoyed our overall experience here.  The food definitely wound up being worth the wait. They really live up to the hype when it comes to serving some of the most outstanding seafood in Pittsburgh.  If you like seafood but haven't yet made the trek to Capstone, what are you waiting for? This place will knock you right off your sea legs.  A sign at the entrance of the restaurant defines Capstone as a "high point or culmination of a series of smaller achievements." This evening's meal was definitely a high point for us when it comes to being served outstanding food. Touche, CG -- and we must agree.

Capstone Grill on Urbanspoon

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