Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Baltimore Road Trip Extravaganza

Liang and I had an adventurous trip to visit some friends who have moved to Baltimore for a medical residency. The drive out wasn't too bad at all (after we got out of Pittsburgh traffic of course). When we got in our friends showed us around their new house, which is super adorable! And OH the rooftop deck :D
Up on the deck they pointed out all their neighbors they've met and told us a little about their neighborhood community, which sounded SO amazing. Apparently, the area they live in is known for the roof top decks - so much fun! I was so happy to hear that they found a nice neighborhood they could fit right into and make fast friends :) and all the activities Mansi is involved with, that girl impresses me to no end! I do not know where she gets the energy, but I could use a serving of it :D

After the grand tour we walked to Nacho Mama's, where I got to experience a pulled pork quesadilla (which is mouth watering, trust me)

Giant, no?

This puppy not only had the pulled pork, but jalapeno mac n cheese and a couple cheeses within it's crispy tortilla topper. It was a monster, as you can see. To wash it down we were going to try a hub cap margarita, but we arrived after the cut off time to order one. So, instead we ordered the locally popular National Bohemian beer (90% of distribution is in the Baltimore area), otherwise known as Natty Bo. This may be the most fun and interactive beer I have had in a while. Why? Because the cap provides hours of entertainment for drunk people trying to work out the puzzles, plus there's a guy on top with an awesome mustache! haha

I am digging the 'stache

The beer was tasty for a light beer, plus it gets bonus points for being fun. The next morning we got up and went to a local park to walk around and find a place to do our book club. We found the perfect place to enjoy looking at a whole bunch o' ducks (plus a few geese), and shade for my sake haha. It was so nice to be able to enjoy each others company since we hadn't seen them in so long. As I've never been part of a book club before, I wasn't sure what to talk about. But Mansi had discussion questions and I feel more prepared to better participate in the next meeting. Later, we headed out to Little Italy where we had some brick oven pizzas (mouth watering...) and then onto a gem of a place called Vaccaro's. Can I just say the array of Italian desserts was amazing. We got a mix of cookies, a piece of Tiramisu cake, and a chip and dip (cannoli shell chips and cannoli filling) to share. Next visit I will definitely be buying an assortment of cookies and cannoli.

The Harbor was a happenin' place! All kinds of vendors and people. A neat guy was painting beautiful pictures on all kinds of items, like cardboard and planks of wood. Very artsy :)
I was amazed at the size of the Barnes & Noble at the harbor. The old building was more charming and had more character it seemed like to me than the newer more modern buildings (that's just me).

That night we got to eat at what Liang was hunting for, and I had heard so much about, blue crab!!!! I have never had it before, but boy is it involved eating haha. I will say that eating with a mallet was way more fun than it should be. I had fun, but it was Liang who destroyed the crabs with superior focus, so she should get all the credit for this table of devastation!

I'm glad I got to experience that, with a professional :)

The next morning we got up and went to a famous breakfast place, Blue Moon Cafe, and (very patiently) waited in line so we could experience the food that everyone has been talking about. I got the captain crunch french toast, which is topped with whipped cream and fresh cut fruit. I didn't even need syrup - it tasted so good (thinking about it is making my mouth water just a little bit!) Liang got her fill of crab by ordering the Maryland Eggs Benedict, which is Eggs Benedict with lump crab meat.

 Delicious :)

Soon after breakfast we headed out back to Pittsburgh, but the drive wasn't too bad on the way back either. Once we returned, Michael took a picture of us to remember our happiness at the end of our voyage (I must have been tired with my eyes closed and all hehe).

Our trip was fantastic and I can't express enough how awesome it was to see our friends and hear about how they're doing. I can only hope next year rolls around and that David and I do half as well in adjusting to our new city as well. We already have our next traveling book club meeting tentatively planned, so when they come visit us, Liang and I will have our work cut out for us to make the trip as much fun as we had, but we can't wait!

Monday, May 6, 2013

Marathon Relay 2013


This year, we decided to do the marathon relay! The sun was out, all of Pittsburgh was out to cheer the runners on, and we finished the marathon in 4:07:51!! 

Thanks to all our family and friends who came out to support us! 

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Iron Chef Pittsburgh

David and I love cooking shows, which is why I enjoy Food Network so much! Liang and I recently did an experiment and all I could think of while we were doing it was a running narration of an Iron Chef episode. So as crazy different as that may be, I thought I'd share with you our experiment but embellish it with what was going through my mind as we were working :)


Ohayƍgozaimasu! (Good Morning!) Welcome to Iron Chef Pittsburgh where we have an interesting food challenge here at Liang's Kitchen Stadium, where tensions are running high. The two chef's are waiting patiently for the secret dish to be revealed to them. The challenger is chef Pillsbury and the reigning iron chef that will be challenged is iron chef Liang. A hush falls over the kitchen arena as the secret dish is revealed. The secret dish for this challenge will be . . . BATTLE CINNAMON ROLLS!

So now Pittsburgh, with an open heart and an empty stomach, I say to yinz in the words of my uncle:
"Allez Cuisine"!
As the clock starts, the chefs rush to start their baking. Challenger chef Pillsbury has an advantage as she furiously begins to peel open the tube of her refrigerated cinnamon rolls and slamming it against the table's edge in an attempt to open it. It seems she will be relying on the refrigerated variety of cinnamon rolls that Pillsbury is so famous for.
OH! It seems she's having difficulty getting the tube open. On the second try she gets it open. Messy business using tubed rolls, as it can be difficult to get them open.
But iron chef Liang isn't fazed and as she smiles, she revealed that she too was prepared for this challenge by pulling out a risen yeast dough for her rolls. What a turn of events! This battle just got interesting with a baking powder based rising dough vying against a hearty and flavorful yeast dough. Both chefs bend over their work intently as sugar and cinnamon flies through the air.
Now is a good time to introduce the judges for this challenge. First we have David, who is a well rounded experienced food critic. His expertise for the most part lies in enjoying anything that comes out of the home kitchen. Our second judge is Michael, who is also an experienced food critic who also enjoys home cooking, but who has had more experience with international cuisine. These judges will be tough to please with their combined experience, but both of these chefs are known for pleasing the crowds.
Back to the kitchen arena. Chef Pillsbury has arranged her rolls in the pan expertly to allow them to expand just right while baking to create the most tender rolls possible. While using these prepared cinnamon rolls will always result in consistent results, it's difficult because there isn't much opportunity to improve the flavor. So, chef Pillsbury is relying on pleasing the judges with the tried and true flavor that these rolls come packaged with. Things are looking good for her in this regard since since these have been a popular convenience breakfast food since they were created and made available in grocery stores across the country.
Iron chef Liang has more work cut out for her since she is taking the longer route and using a yeast based dough for her dish. This is risky business for her in this challenge, as it takes longer to prepare and requires a rising time before baking. However, this strategy could pay off for her in the end by resulting in a bakery fresh roll packed full of yeasty flavor giving her an edge in this taste competition.
An interesting thing about cinnamon rolls, there is a version of it referred to as the Honey Bun. It is essentially a cinnamon roll that is fried instead of baked, but with a fun twist of being a popular food item for jails and prisons. Since typical prison/jail food is pretty bland, these are delicacies for prisoners! (Way to go Wikipedia!)
The ovens are heated and the rolls are baking! Now this competition is nearly out of their hands. Chef Pillsbury can now sit back and relax while her rolls bake since they come with a pre-made packet of glaze. However, iron chef Liang has to create a glaze to compliment her rolls, so she sets to work with a bowl and a whisk.
The rolls are out of the oven! Chef Pillsbury seems pleased with her rolls, they look like they usually do (left picture below). Iron chef Liang's rolls look over sized and just like the bakery ones, plump and full of flavor (right picture below). We will see how the judges like the rolls :)
Both judges are keeping a poker face while tasting. After the evaluation they have come to an unanimous decision. With bated breath the chefs await the ruling. The winner is, coming out with a perfect score . . . . . . . . .
Chef Pillsbury congratulates iron chef Liang and gracefully accepts defeat. The kitchen stadium's reigning champion seems to have pulled off another win!
In an interview after the judging, both judges agreed that chef Pillsbury's cinnamon rolls came out with a consistent flavor like they always have, but that iron chef Liang's rolls came out with a pleasing tender flaky texture that had a delicious flavor that melted in your mouth. They also revealed that they both felt that chef Pillsbury's rolls had a chemical aftertaste that was displeasing to the palate, which (let's be real) is a result of using dough in a TUBE.

There you have it folks, it seems a homemade yeast dough, plenty of brown sugar and cinnamon galore will always come out on top when compared to a tube of rolls you bring to the arena from the refrigerated section of your friendly neighborhood grocery store. But fair warning fellow Pittsburgher's, if you have 'the sugars' this may not be the food item for you.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Tis the Season, or it Was Anyways

Well I have been negligent in my blogging this Christmas season. I guess I got caught up in all the things that go into the Christmas season. I participated in baking cookies for local nursing homes again this year and can I let you in on a nasty secret I've discovered? Ovens all around the world have been lying to all of us for years.

Let me start at the beginning. I sat down and figured out everything I wanted to make, made a list of ingredients and bought those ingredients. When I finally mustered the gumption to start this baking bonanza I went to my oven and started preheating it. Six minutes later the oven cheerfully beeps at me letting me know it was hot and ready to help. LIAR!

Apparently those 6 minutes of "preheating" are really my ovens way of telling me "thanks for giving me some time. I've thought about it and I've decided I will warm up for you, but it's going to be another 30 minutes before I'm at temperature." Thank goodness for my oven thermometer, otherwise I may have had some undercooked cookies and ended up with the collywobbles (Brave anyone?)

Despite my unwilling and hesitant oven, I made over 10 dozen cookies/biscotti before Christmas, along with all the blueberry jam and apple butter I gave out this year! (see picture below, but imagine stacks and stacks of jars) I was very happy, and I hope the recipients were as well :)

Also, before I finish this much belated post I have to say just how great I think Liang's post is about 5 years and counting. It's all too rare to see a couple reach that point and I am so happy to see them going strong! David and I definitely feel lucky to have both of them in our lives as close friends, and we can only hope to be as happy as they are come our 5th year wedding anniversary. There's an Irish saying that I thought they'd both appreciate:
May those who love us, love us
and those who don't love us, may God turn their hearts
and if He doesn't turn their hearts, may he turn their ankles
so we can recognize them from their limp.

:) I've always found great wisdom in that one hehe.

But on a more serious note, I just want to toast to them (with my hypothetical adult bev) and say here's to you both! May the next 5 years be just as wonderful and joy filled as these past 5 have been!Slainte!

Monday, December 31, 2012

Five and counting

Photo taken by David Svilar, copyright 2012

It's been a long road together, as relationships often are, but I'm glad to report that on this day, we're celebrating 11 years and 7 months since we first shyly clasped hands as bright-eyed youngsters and started on this journey of life together. 

Exactly five years ago, the journey shifted to a different and new phase--some might say a more serious phase--but the truth is we've been traveling the same road all along. The marriage certificate was only a formality and symbol of the commitment we already made to each other long before.

So here's to the innumerable years ahead, hands still clasped tightly, of walking on the road together. Hopefully somewhere along the way there might be an extra hand, or a few hands, to join our family. But even if not, hey, we know we'll always have plenty of furry paws and plenty of friends to share the road along the way. And of course, we'll always have each other.

Happy five years, my chuck.*

Photo taken by David Svilar, copyright 2012

*Macbeth, anyone?

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Ramen in Pittsburgh: Taste Test at Last!

ramen 3

After months of waiting and two failed attempts to eat at the newest Asian-cuisine addition to Pittsburgh, we finally scored our bowls of noodles last night!

I ordered a miso-base ramen that had one large chunk of stewed (chashu) pork and a bunch of bean sprouts. I also added a soft-center egg. It was great. The noodles were chewy and plentiful, the egg yolk was wonderfully unctuous, the meat was tender and very generously sized, and there was plenty of soup to slurp.

ramen 2

Michael opted for a soy sauce based soup with wontons. He had five wontons, a decently sized piece of tender white meat pork, and plenty of slightly pickled bamboo shoots. He enjoyed it and gives it 3.5 truffles out of 5 truffles.


So would we go back and recommend it to others? I would say yes and yes, but with an asterisk. We wouldn't necessarily frequent it very often as a random weekend dinner, as it is indeed a bit pricey ($9-10) for an-only-slightly-better bowl of noodle soup than we could make at home with frozen ramen kits from the Japanese grocery store (~$4, serves 2).

But it would be a fun experience with friends, good amount of food for the price, and they have some wild crazy ramen choices that you can't get from the grocery store (e.g. kimchi ramen, curry ramen). Unlike many Yelp reviewers, I think the amount of meat they give you is really quite tasty and generous (obviously those reviewers haven't eaten at noodle establishments in Asia where they only give you a few super thin slices of meat per bowl of noodles). And it really isn't that much more expensive in price than noodle bowls at other Asian restaurants, like Vietnamese pho.

Next time, curry ramen!

Friday, October 26, 2012

No Whey - We Made Cheese!


I will admit, my title made me laugh which means you now know my big secret - I'm pretty lame :)
But I am getting  off topic, so we had quite the adventure the other day: early Christmas present, delicious food and intriguing spreads! Liang came over bringing her surprise which turned out to be the neatest thing - a cheese making kit. Not only was it a magical dairy transformer package, but it was a MEGA magical transformer kit because it lets you make several different kinds of cheeses! But Liang had more in store for me because she pulled out 2 quarts (her purse was like Mary Poppin's bag I swear) of goat milk and a huge grin on her face when she informed me that we were going to make cheese! Yum. Again she reached into her purse and pulled out 2 more goodies, a fig butter and an olive tapenade that would pair wonderfully with the cheese. I kid you not, I was drooling.

We set to work sterilizing everything, heating up the milk and adding the citric acid when needed, cheese salt, and brought everything to temperature. The only time we faltered was when  we were ready for the curds but we weren't sure how fine was okay to work with. Needless to say a few extra pinches of citric acid later we decided to take our chances and let it drain through the cheesecloth and see what we got. It was a bit tricky lining the colander with the cheesecloth and pouring in the curds and whey but we managed it - slowly! After draining we put it in the little draining mold the kit came with and placed the sack-o-cheese curds we had created into it and topped it with a can of pinto beans to weight it. Finally after 30 excruciatingly difficult 30 minutes we were able to unveil our creation. We peeled off the cheesecloth from the sides and revealed a beautiful and perfect 1/2 lb goat cheese.


You can be sure that we savored this little white block of heaven with the tasty fig butter and olive tapenade. I know I definitely ate more than I should have, but I figure dairy is good for me because it helps ward off osteoporosis - so I was really investing in my future by indulging in this delightful treat hehe. YES I am aware that I'm deluding myself but I am perfectly okay with that :) That is my story and I am sticking to it (besides, that's why we run during the week, right?) Now don't get carried away, we didn't eat the WHOLE 1/2 lb of cheese (geez!) Most of it is saved for David's party this weekend, so maybe you'll get a chance to try it!

Monday, October 15, 2012


Since our recent visit to the Fall Foliage Festival all I have been able to think about is treats that I love to eat when the weather turns. And since I love to eat said treats so much I have to try and make them a little healthier at least to justify my gorging on them :) So I thought I would share one recipe I make that I REALLY enjoy (and I think Liang and Michael have too) and look forward to making soon. Unfortunately, I have been too busy to make this just yet - but I will be doing it soon! (I have a hankering for them so it has to be soon ha ha)

I was curious and found a fun fact about cinnamon rolls - the first cinnamon roll was baked in Sweden on October 4th, and there it is now known as National Cinnamon Bun Day. These delicious buns are called "kanelbulle" there, but they are known as delicious everywhere I know.

Cinnamon Rolls

I would like to say these are at least a tiny bit healthier (or maybe its my personal bias) and certainly tastier than their store bought brethren that come in a can that you have to slam against a counter to get to pop open. These puppies are more like when you wake up from a dream and you smell delicious bread baking in the oven, the caramelizing sugar, the yeasty bread smell . . . sorry I'm starting to salivate a little . . . well I didn't wake up to this today, but you can imagine what I'm talking about.

**These rolls freeze wonderfully, and can be reheated in the microwave or oven. You can also prep the dough the night before, just make sure it comes to room temperature before you proceed.

  • 3 1/4 tsp dry active yeast (about 1 1/2 packages)
  • 1/4 c warm water
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1/2 c shortening
  • 1/3 c sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 c milk
  • 1 egg
  • 4 1/2 - 5 c flour, sifted (I use bread flour)
  • melted butter
  • brown sugar
  • cinnamon
1. Add warm water, sugar and yeast together and let sit 10 minutes, or until frothy.

2. Scald the milk; pour over the shortening. Add sugar and salt and then let cool to tepid.
3. Add the yeast mix and beaten egg to the tepid liquid. Then add 4 cups of flour adding one at a time beating after each addition.
4. Dough should be soft yet firm enough to handle. Knead it until it's elastic and smooth. Avoid using too much flour because the finished product will be a dry, tough bread. Turn into a well oiled bowl and let rise 1 1/2 hours.

5. Press dough down and divide into a workable size. Roll dough into a rectangle. Cover with some melted butter and then layer on a generous layer of brown sugar (a good one is 1/4" or more thick of sugar). Sprinkle on the cinnamon to preference and roll up jelly roll fashion.
6. Cut off slices from the roll that are approx. 1 1/2" thick using unflavored waxed floss (trust me this is easier than trying to cut with a knife). Place the slices in a greased pan, giving them all a little room because they are going to rise!

7. Let them rise until they fill the pan generously, about another 1 hour.

8. Bake at 350 degrees F for about 15-20 minutes, or until golden on top. If they get too brown, cover them with a piece of foil until they're done. Don't over bake them!
9. Remove immediately from pan by inverting them onto a plate and then use another plate to right them. OR you can just serve them out of the pan to people :) Now for the glaze!

  •  1 c powdered sugar
  • 1/2 c (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1. Mix cream cheese, sugar, butter and vanilla in medium bowl until smooth. Spread the glaze on rolls after they've cooled to just warm - unless you really like your glaze runny, then have at it!

I have had customers at my work beg me to bring it in every week since I first made them, so you can be assured they're at least good enough to give a chance. (Of course I don't make them every week, otherwise I'd NEVER finish a 10K race Gangnam style or not...)

Bedford Fall Festival 2012


A few weeks ago, we trekked out to Bedford to attend the 48th annual Bedford Fall Foilage Festival. We really lucked out on the weather, and it ended up being a cool 50-some degree cloudy day that held off on the rain until we were leaving. Score!

So we wandered around for a few hours, taking in all the sights and tastes, and loading up on treats to haul back for our husbands' enjoyment!


Of course we had to get some fair food! Liang got a buffalo burger with peppers and onions, which she wolfed down too quickly before a picture could be obtained. Shannon enjoyed a gigantic and tasty gyro (pictured above) and we shared the humongous order of cheese fries. We'd originally planned on getting some sweets like funnel cake, but after all that food, we found ourselves too stuffed for dessert!

So we collected dessert to bring home instead. We picked up some cinnamon roasted almonds (there were stands everywhere and they smelled so good!), fudge, caramel corn, and apple dumplings.


Also we found the fresh cider press! Shannon had promised to take a gallon home, so we waited in line patiently as these guys worked at a furious pace at this old-timey cider press. You can see the pile of apple mush on the pickup truck in the background. While we waited, we sipped on some hot spiced cider they were selling by the cup on the side. So tasty and warming on the chilly day!


We can't wait to go back next year! It's such a large event, full of interesting sights and yummy food!

And lastly, Liang's trophy finds on this trip:


Cookie cutters! Especially the BUFFALO cookie cutter! Woohoo! You can bet you'll be seeing some cut out cookies in the near future with some of these beauties!

Sunday, October 7, 2012


This is what happens when I have yarn out at home: cats chewing on yarn, ignoring all other indignities, including being wrapped in a scarf.