Archive for August, 2010

by Caitlin Saniga and Sarah Steimer

Caitlin visited Sarah in Pittsburgh for two days and they fit in as much quality food time as possible, visiting the Bethel Park Farmer’s Market and the Strip District. For lunch one day, the ladies (plus Sarah’s mom) wandered into South Side and decided on Mantini’s Wood Fired. Caitlin and Sarah both got the Barbequed Pork Quesadilla for $6.95. It made the  $6 Snacks cut, though, because it was meant to be split: It was listed as an appetizer on the menu.

Sarah: I really want to go back to Mantini’s Wood Fired. That quesadilla was too good to forget. I’ve sort of gotten away from meat-based dishes, especially when I eat out, but that was an exception.

Caitlin: I feel the same way. And, while the quesadilla we ordered was full of pork, I felt like it was really balanced by the fresh tomato salsa and smoky apple flavors.

S: I would have felt like a loser getting just a salad when the interior has such a rugged feel with exposed-brick walls and dark-hued woods and … fire. I guess my mom did get a salad, but she redeemed herself by getting the day’s beef brisket on top.

C: Yea, there was no way I’d order just a salad when I could watch/smell/hear the chefs slicing and cooking up the smoky meats. That open-kitchen arrangement was really cool. We probably could have walked up and watched them cook our food if we’d wanted.

S: I’ve read they have pretty good drink specials as well. I saw a tweet by @southsidepgh the one day saying, because it was a full moon, they were selling $3 Blue Moons.

C: They have daily house-made soup specials, too.

S: I wanted to take you somewhere authentically Pittsburgh, and I’d never been to Mantini’s before to verify that it would serve such a purpose. But, luckily, Mantini’s just happened to have authentic Pittsburghers to make up for the fact that it wasn’t covered in Terrible Towels.

C: I was OK with that.

S: I seriously couldn’t have planned what happened better: My mom interrupting someone’s lunch like it was no big deal. The man being so excited to talk about his lunch and even offering (as a joke, I assume) a bite of his meal before he started in on it — announcing that it was just that “Pittsburgh friendliness.” I almost just threw my hands up. It’s everything I try to explain to people about Pittsburgh, summed up in a five-minute exchange between my mother and a stranger. I’m definitely going back. I hear ownership is changing, but I would hope they’re keeping that quesadilla.

C: Let’s go next time I’m back in town.

S: Go Steelers.

Visit Mantini’s Wood Fired in Pittsburgh’s South Side: 1209 E. Carson St., Pittsburgh, PA 15203; www.mantiniswoodfired.com

Photo: Caitlin Saniga

*$6 Snacks is a recurring feature that reviews an area eatery’s snack — for $6 or less. Look at a map of the places we’ve tried.

Mantini's Woodfired on Urbanspoon

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by Sarah Steimer

It's not the traditional Italian recipe, but I'm not Italian. So no harm done.

  • 1/2 cup freshly brewed strong coffee, at room temperature
  • 4 tablespoons Kahlua
  • 2 large, fresh eggs, separated, at room temperature
  • pinch of salt
  • 7 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 cup mascarpone
  • twelve 3½-inch ladyfingers (my grocery store was out, so I actually used those little shortcake rounds. They fit in my cups perfectly)
  • grated dark chocolate

Mix together the espresso and Kahlua. The mixture should taste strongly of alcohol. If not, add more until it does.

You have to assume the dessert will be out of control if these are the ingredients.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, or by hand, beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt until they begin to get stiff. Beat in half of the sugar until stiff. Scrape the egg whites into a small bowl.

In the same bowl, beat the egg yolks with the remaining sugar until stiff and light-colored, about three minutes. By hand, beat in the mascarpone with a spatula or whisk, until lump-free. Fold in half of the beaten egg whites, then the remaining half, just until fully incorporated.

Spoon the mascarpone mixture into each cup. Grate a generous amount of chocolate over each. Break each ladyfinger in half and then submerge it in the espresso mixture for 5-10 seconds, until completely soaked. (Dried ladyfingers will take longer to saturate than softer ones.) Be careful not to soak it for too long as they tend to get really musshy! Then layer them over the mascarpone cream in each cup. Use two ladyfingers for each serving.

Top with remaining mascarpone cream and chocolate, cover, and refrigerate at least four hours, but preferably overnight. Makes 6 servings.

Recipe adapted from: Sugar & Everything Nice

Photos: Sarah Steimer

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by Caitlin Saniga

A heaping pile of fried green beans from Tip Top Kitchen and Cocktails

** This is technically a $7 snack. Keep reading to see why I’m including it in $6 Snacks anyway.

If you order the fried green beans from Tip Top Kitchen and Cocktails in Columbus, you’re going to get a buttload of green beans in a basket. My friends laugh at me when that’s all I order for a work lunch outing. But when they’re all grabbing and dipping my stragglers, and when I’m packing a box full of leftovers to take home, I think they get it. I order this dish because it’se tasty, filling – and there’s plenty to go around.

The beans range in size up to about 7 inches long. Covered in crunchy breading, the beans themselves are pretty soft and still green on the inside. (When I first ordered this appetizer, I was afraid they’d be olive-brown from sitting in deep-fryer oil. But I had nothing to fear.)

Maybe the best part about this snack, though, is the duo of dipping sauces served alongside. The first is a creamy house-made ranch, and, duh, anything fried and dipped in ranch tastes pretty good. The second is a Bloody Mary sauce with a tomato/black pepper flavor. This one has a thin texture, but the flavor is a winner.

Did I mention you get so many beans with this order? If you can’t finish all of them – and I guarantee you won’t by yourself – ask for lids for your sauces and a to-go box. When you’re hungry later, spread the beans on a cookie sheet and set them under the broiler until the first side gets crispy and golden again. Flip them, and let them broil on the other side. They’re almost as good the second time heated.

If fried green beans don’t sound strange enough to you, Tip Top also serves an appetizer of Fried Eggplant for $7. There’s house-cut fries and sweet-potato fries, too, for $5. All of these can be ordered as sides for most entrees, at an additional cost.

Visit Tip Top Cocktails and Restaurant in downtown Columbus: 73 E. Gay St., Columbus, OH,43215; www.tiptopcolumbus.com

Photo: Caitlin Saniga

*$6 Snacks is a recurring feature that reviews an area eatery’s snack — for $6 or less. Look at a map of the places we’ve tried.

Tip Top Kitchen and Cocktails on Urbanspoon

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by Sarah Steimer

A little slice of the Bethel Park Farmer’s Market, south of Pittsburgh and five minutes from my house. Last year it took first place in the region.

If you’ve never been, let me paint you a picture of Kent State (from the inside, looking out):

University –> college town –> farmland.

Naturally, it would seem like the pinnacle of food success. The university would be full of brilliant minds who educate themselves about health. The college town setting would be ideal for restaurants and grocers carrying local produce. And the farmland, well it provides the sustenance to fuel it all. And this is all true of Kent.

And then I came home to Pittsburgh, and it got even better.

Monday morning I went to a program at my local library called “Eat Seasonally.” It drew a small crowd (of which I was the youngest) and featured speaker Erin Hart of Farm to Table PA.

The obvious was touched on: How buying local helps the economy — the money goes directly into the farmer’s pocket, not a corporation’s that is based who-knows-where. It helps the environment — a pick-up truck that travels from the next county will pollute far less than an 18-wheeler barreling across the country. Plus “factory food” does involve factory pollution from machinery.

But Ms. Hart made a few interesting points that the nodding heads in the room paused at. Turns out there are likely

Click to enlarge (fruit and veggie facts)

many more organic farms in the nation than we’d think. To “officially” be called organic, farms have to play by the government’s standards — and not every farm is OK with that, so they avoid the official moniker to avoid government control. And the official organic stamp doesn’t necessarily mean absolutely no pesticides were used, some pesticides are deemed all right by government standards.

What piqued my attention was the information about the Southwestern Pennsylvania local food movement. The area was voted No. 1 in the country in 2006 for its number of farmer’s markets and community gardens per capita by SustainLane.com. I won’t go on and on about Pittsburgh and its locavores, so here’s just a quick idea of how important local farmers and their goods are to Southwestern Pennsylvania.

But what really makes the Pittsburgh area stand out, to me, is its ability to keep those farmers, restaurateurs and its other foodies honest.

“Pittsburgh is the city of bridges,” Ms. Hart said. “And you don’t want to burn any of those bridges.”

Pittsburgh is fairly small, she explained, so word will get out if you try to pull a fast one on Steel City consumers.

I walked away from the program not only with an apple from a local orchard, but feeling pretty confident in what I eat in and around Pittsburgh: We’re more than just sandwiches with coleslaw and fries on top (with all due respect, Primati Bros).

A few tips for eating local and organic:

Dirty Dozen and Clean 15 – A guide of what fruits and vegetables should be bought organic.

What nutrients are in your basket? – Find out what foods give you what vitamins.

Guide to Pennsylvania vegetables – What to buy and when.

Reporting and photos by Sarah Steimer

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by Caitlin Saniga

My sister and I have done a lot of experimenting with popcorn flavors. Some ideas need work (cocoa, dill, garlic salt), but this one is perfect every time: taco popcorn.

Taco seasoning: (note: This recipe makes way more seasoning than you’ll need for one batch of popcorn. Save the extra seasoning in a shaker or sealed container.)

I store the seasoning in a shaker and use it for other batches of popcorn and, duh, tacos.

  • 1/4 cup chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 2 teaspoon paprika
  • 2 tablespoons ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon salt (at least)
  • 1 tablespoon pepper (at least)


  • 1/2 cup popcorn kernels
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil or vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted

To prepare the taco seasoning, combine all ingredients in a small bowl. Transfer the mix to a shaker or small, resealable container or bag.

To prepare the popcorn, in a medium pot over medium-high heat, toss the kernels in oil. Cover the pot with a lid. As the kernels begin to pop, gently shake the covered pot to ensure that the popcorn doesn’t burn. Once the kernels stop popping, remove the pot from the stove.

Slowly trickle melted butter over the popcorn, stopping frequently to shake the popcorn. Season popcorn to taste with taco seasoning, stopping frequently to shake the popcorn.

Recipe: Caitlin Saniga

Photos: Caitlin Saniga

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by Sarah Steimer

Check out Sarah’s review of Madsen Donuts, another grub stop in Geneva-on-the-Lake.

See a map of Caitlin’s and Sarah’s postcards to each other.

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by Sarah Steimer

A lemon-tinted crisp for breakfast or dessert.


  • 5 cups of blueberries (frozen or fresh — thaw if frozen)
  • 4 tablespoons of sugar
  • 3 tablespoons of flour
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup of lemon balm


  • 1/2 cup of oats
  • 1/2 cup of brown sugar, packed
  • 1/4 cup of flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon of nutmeg
  • 1/4 cup of butter
  • 1/3 cup of chopped walnuts
  • zest of half of a lemon

Combine ingredients for filling and place in a 9-inch pie dish. Combine all ingredients for the topping except the butter. Cut in butter a little at a time and use your hands to combine and create create a sort of crumbly, streusel-like

My blueberries were frozen, but at least my lemon balm was fresh.

consistency. Add this to the top of the filling, covering completely.

Bake at 375 degrees for 30-35 minutes or until golden brown on the top. Let cool on a rack for about 10 minutes.

Recipe adapted from: Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook

Photos: Sarah Steimer

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by Caitlin Saniga

Drippy-good Sweet Corn & Black Raspberries ice cream from Jeni’s Ice Creams

My friend Eddie tried a trio (clockwise from red: Cherry Lambic, Apricot Yogurt and Lemon & Blueberries).

When I was in Thailand eight years ago, one of my family’s new Thai pals introduced us to Thailand’s version of ice cream. Maybe it was vanilla. Maybe it was just cold white cream. I can’t remember clearly. But I’ll never forget taking a big lick from my cone and finding a frozen green bean and a kernel of corn in my mouth. Young Caitlin’s unrefined palate basically said, “WTF.” It didn’t taste bad. It just weirded me out.

So, on my first trip to Jeni’s Ice Creams – Columbus’ hip, healthful ice cream shop – when I saw Sweet Corn and Black Raspberries ice cream on the menu, I felt I had to give the corn/ice cream combo another go. And I’m glad I did.

At $4, a single-scoop cone (pictured above) was perfect in every way. Perfect size. Perfect treat for a warm day. Perfect corn/ice cream combo. Instead of finding kernels, I found tiny flecks of yellow sweet corn, apparently blended straight into the ice cream. A closed-mouth exhale revealed the corn’s soft flavor and a hint of honey. And the swirls of fruit were saccharine and chunky, with bits of berry. I couldn’t eat it fast enough.

And the best part about Jeni’s is that it’s house-made from local ingredients. Think about that when I list some of the other flavors: Salty Caramel, Pistachio & Honey, Wildberry Lavender, Riesling Poached Pear, Backyard Mint, and Strawberry Buttermilk. If you order a Trio, $5, you can choose three flavors to sample.

Visit Jeni’s Ice Creams in Grandview: 1281 Grandview Ave., Columbus, OH, 43212 or at one of its four other locations; jenisicecreams.com

Photos: Caitlin Saniga

*$6 Snacks is a recurring feature that reviews an area eatery’s snack — for $6 or less. Look at a map of the places we’ve tried.

Jeni's Ice Creams (Grandview Heights) on Urbanspoon

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by Sarah Steimer

Breaded anything is perfect bar food.

  • green tomato(es)
  • zucchini
  • flour
  • eggs
  • milk
  • breadcrumbs or panko crumbs (I did about half and half, the texture was perfect)
  • vegetable oil

    Careful...if you don't cook the tomatoes long enough they'll taste bitter.

Depending on how much you make, you’ll just have to eyeball the ingredients. It’s pretty easy to tell how much of each you’ll need. Slice the zucchini and tomatoes about 1/4 inch thick or even thinner if you please — the thinner you cut the tomatoes, the less chance they have of tasting bitter. Put flour, beaten eggs (with a splash of milk) and breadcrumbs in separate bowls. Dip the vegetables in that order.

Fill a pan about 1/2 inch with vegetable oil and allow it to get hot until you add vegetables. Give the veggies about 3 minutes on each side or until golden brown (they darken a little more even when they’re out of the oil). Place on a rack covered with paper towels to let cool. Eat plain or use a dip, my parents seemed to enjoy a horseradish mustard with theirs.


Part of the reason I made fried green tomatoes is because we have had loads of tomatoes on our plants, but they wouldn’t turn red. I Googled my dilemma and found that often times tomato plants will concentrate their energy on continuing to grow, not ripening their fruit. So I went out and snipped off the tips of the main branches to trick the plant into thinking it couldn’t grow anymore. Within two days I already have a couple of tomatoes turning red!

Recipe and photos: Sarah Steimer

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by Sarah Steimer

I was afraid I’d have to hold people away to take the picture.

I remember in high school when, for whatever reason, everyone went crazy for Krispy Kreme doughnuts. I didn’t get it.

Madsen Donuts, in Geneva-on-the-Lake, Ohio, will remain forever in my mind as having the best doughnuts. My all-time favorite has been the simple cake doughnut with chocolate icing. And anyone who moans about cake doughnuts being too dry is clearly getting their doughnuts from a below-par baker.

Another popular favorite (judging from my family) is the creme stick. It’s simple: pastry, creme filling, chocolate icing. Madsen also carries cake with cinnamon and sugar, cake with jimmies, cinnamon twists, jelly-filled, powdered cake, cake with nuts and a couple more I’m sure I’m forgetting. But it’s the same, reliable variety each time.

The trademark blue-and-white box.

There is nothing complex about the doughnuts that Madsen carries. There’s nothing complex about the store, either, which opened in 1938. There is just enough room to walk in, through a screen door that slams behind you, and order. There will always be a high school or college student to wait on you. And if you order a dozen, they will always tuck your doughnuts away in a white-and-blue-striped box.

It’s part of the charm that is Geneva-on-the-Lake. The store is nestled on the “popular” Lake Erie strip that hosts bars, arcades, diners, mini golf courses and tattoo parlors. A quick walk from the old cottages that line the beach.

One doughnut is $.75, a dozen is $9.

Visit Madsen’s: 5426 Lake Road East, Geneva-On-The-Lake, Ohio, 44041. See another fond review for the doughnuts here.

Photos: Sarah Steimer

*$6 Snacks is a recurring feature that reviews an area eatery’s snack — for $6 or less. Look at a map of the places we’ve tried.

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