Simpler New Years Eve Cake

Some people would call me stubborn, in this case, I prefer to say that I won’t give up easily. Even with my poke cake made, I decided one last try at a deocrated cake. This time I kept it a lot simpler but still used half of the sphere to add a 3D element to the cake.

Overall, my piping technique needs work. But the cake looks nice and I can say I did it. Happy New Year everyone!

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New Year’s Eve Cake – Ball Dropped and Salvaged

If you’ve been following me on Twitter (@PghTasteBudB), you know that I’m in the midst of making a New Years Eve cake for a party that I’m going to.  I figured what is more symbolic for New Year’s Eve than the Times Square ball dropping.  So I embarked on building a New Year’s Eve ball cake.

Using boxed cake mixes, I made a two-layer confetti cake base and a chocolate ball top.  Thankfully I was able to find a mold for making a sphere at Michael’s just that afternoon.  I used a pedestal piece to help elevate the ball from the base as if it were the coming down as the clock strikes midnight.  For my first time actually decorating using icing tips, I topped the purple base with stars and thought I was on a roll.  Until disaster struck.

After some additional designs on the base, I started decorating the ball.  Things seemed to be going swimmingly and I was getting the hang of using the icing bags and coloring the icing.  Before long, the weight of the icing on the ball was too much and the cake slide down the pedestal crashing onto the base of the cake.  So at 2pm, I packed up the base and decided I was headed to bed for a fresh start in the morning.

Not wanting my previous night to be a total loss, I woke up this morning and decided to pay homage to one of my childhood favorite cakes, the “poke cake.” A poke cake is made using a few simple techniques.
(1) Bake a cake
(2) Let the cake cool completely then randomly poke holes into the cake (I like to use a spoon).
(3)  Prepare Jello to it’s package instructions and pour it over the cake.
(4) Refrigerate until Jello is set.
(5) Top with Cool Whip topping.

I began removing the icing from the base of the cake, as if I was cutting the crust off of bread, trimming the sides and discarding the icing.  I chopped the cake into pieces and placed in a bowl.  I made a berry Jello and  poured over the cake pieces.

Upcoming TasteBud Report: Winter Classic Signature Sandwich Face-off

Pittsburgh will soon play host to the NHL Winter Classic at Heinz Field on January 1, 2011.  The Pittsburgh TasteBuds will proudly be in attendance to cheer on the Pittsburgh Penguins against the rival Washington Capitals.
Aside from waving our terrible towels, we plan to partake in the Signature Sandwich Face-off.    Courtesy of ARAMARK, each team has held their own in-town competition to submit their arena’s best sandwich for a head-to-head competition at the Winter Classic.  The match-up is CONSOL Energy Center’s “Kielbasa Grinder” vs. Verizon Center’s “The Fury”. (view details)

Since the competition and the winner will likely be held directly at the event, we are going to use Twitter and the hashtag #SignatureSandwichFaceoff to share our comments with you.  We encourage you to share your comments using the same hashtag.  And may the best city win!

Food Shines at Tamari

Lawrenceville is a wonderful area of Pittsburgh. While many places close on Mondays, Tamari is able to prosper. We went last night with a friend to exchange gifts and share a meal. When walking in at 6pm we were told the first available table would be 9:00pm or 9:30pm, but we were welcome to sit at the bar. Typically that line wouldn’t have worked with us, but our friend chose the location and it happened to be happy hour with a mere 3-4 people at the 10 bar seats. For happy hour, all drafts, cocktails and tapas are half off so we stood to be able to sample a lot with out paying a lot. And that’s what we did.

After a half-price classic Mojito, I ordered the Grilled Romaine from the cold tapas menu and the Lobster Macaroni and Cheese entree. The tapas was delivered quite quickly and tasted well. There was a watery dressing on it that I couldn’t decipher but complimented the dish. It was served with pickled onions on the side. As for what was topped on the romaine, no one flavor stood out, so it was a balanced dish – a true (possibly healthful?) steal at half-price!

The lobster mac n cheese delivered piping hot and before I was done with the romaine. Once it cooled a minute, my first bite yielded a creamy smooth cheese and maybe two lobster pieces. The shear amount of lobster in this dish left me in awe that they price this at only $20. Aside from pieces mixed throughout the dish, two larger pieces garnished the dish on top.

Tamari on UrbanspoonTamari as a whole was a good experience. I would definately go back, perhaps during the happy hour to sample more of the tapas, like the duck quesadillas or braised pork belly each under $5 during happy hour. Despite not planning this trip with a reservation it turned out well and we had the opportunity to exchange Christmas gifts with a dear friend.

Interested in what I got as a gift?

You may note that I often host friends to watch the Steelers games at my house.  For the east coast 1pm games, there are days when not everyone has had their coffee yet.  Since the person I was exchanging gifts with is a regular and a hefty coffee drinker, he bought me a 12-cup Mr. Coffee coffee maker, which is an upgrade from my 5-cup which had gotten me through so many mornings.  It was a total surprise and I’m sure it will get well utilized.

Eat Well, Lose Weight

Is there anyone out there who doesn’t have the New Years Resolution to lose weight? Most people that I know tend to take liberties with their diet around the holidays and therefore need to make up for that after the new year. Before the holidays even began, I agreed to a weight loss challenge with three friend “Biggest Loser”-style. Much in the same respect that the Biggest Loser on NBC uses the greatest percentage of weight loss, so will we.  The challenge will be a grueling five month, until Memorial Day weekend when we are planning a trip to Toronto.

Knowing this before the holidays, one of my Christmas gifts from TasteBudA was a copy of “Eat Well, Lose Weight” from Better Homes and Gardens. TasteBudA spent – what he claims to be – hours in the bookstore reviewing the recipes in the book prior to purchase. He knew that if he was going to buy this book, he’d also be taking part in the dishes it would create. So it looks like aside from trying to eat better, healthier portions of what Pittsburgh has to offer, I may be sharing my experiences and progress in the competition on

Want to meet one of my competitors? Check out my friend or (Twitter @nerdeats).

I’m currently on the lookout for other great tools that will help me in the competition. I think a regular workout plan and food journal are what I’m on the lookout for. If you have any suggestions, please feel free to share them.

Baked French Toast Casserole

I have to give Paula Deen all the credit for this one because it’s her recipe.  I made this for my family on Christmas morning and it was the perfect touch with some coffee or maybe some juice! 

The recipe says it feeds 6-8 people but it will feed more depending on how  many big eaters you have.


1 Loaf French bread (13-16 ounces)
8 Large eggs
2 Cups of half-and-half
1 Cup of milk
2 Tablespoons granulated sugar
1 Teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 Teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 Teaspoon of ground nutmeg
Dash of salt
Praline Topping, recipe below.
Maple Syrup


Slice French bread in 20 slices about 1 inch thick. Arrange slices in a generously buttered 9 by 13 inch flat baking dish in 2 rows, overlapping the slices.  In a bowl combine eggs, half and half, milk, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt and beat with a beater or whisk untill blended but not bubbly. 

Pour mixture over the bread slices, making sure all are covered evenly with the milk – egg mix.  Spoon some of the mixture in between slices, cover and refridgerate over night.

The next morning spread Praline topping all over the top of the Cassserole 

Bake covered for 40-45 minutes at 350 degrees. 

Praline Topping:

1/2 pound (2 sticks) butter
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 cup chopped pecans
2 table spoons light corn syrup
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl and blend.

Mark Your Calendars: February 2011 Wine Exchange

Now that the majority of the hustle and bustle of the holiday season is behind us, we are proud to announce the date of the next wine exchange.  Being the next one is in the month of February, we’ve decided we are going to be traditional and make a “With Love” theme.

The next wine exchange will be February 22, 2011.  Please mark your calendars and everyone is strongly encouraged to RSVP on Facebook by February, 8.

And don’t forget to vote in our online poll where you can choose the cuisine for the event.  The poll is only available at

Don’t want to regift the wines you received for the holidays? Visit to order wine online and have it shipped to your doorstep – even in Pennsylvania!

TasteBuds visit Braddock’s in Pittsburgh Cultural District

Special value gift certificates
available for
Braddock’s American Brasserie

As the Pittsburgh TasteBuds, we have tried to keep our wine exchange locations within the realm of the smaller BYOB restaurants in Pittsburgh so as to “help the little guy.”  But if our last wine exchange is any indication, we are going to start to need to look for larger establishments that will allow us to bring our own wine in.  In general, if a Pittsburgh restaurant has a liquor license, then BYOB is not permitted.  Braddock’s American Brasserie is one of the few exceptions.

Braddock's American Brasserie on UrbanspoonIn the planning of the Christmas Wine Exchange this past month, Braddock’s was on the list of considered restaurants.  It is a beautiful space located in the Renaissance Pittsburgh on Sixth street in cultural district of downtown Pittsburgh.  The grandeur of walking into the hotel and looking at the ornate ceilings truly is breathtaking.  We tasted the food at Braddock’s and the food was definitely up to TasteBud standards.  The braised short-rib peirogis are a reason to go and have a drink and an appetizer alone.  I challenge anyone out there to order the fish sandwich and finish it – it’s huge!  Plus, they even offer a $5 burger called the “1791” which is served with an herbed mayo.

We take great pride in being able to offer to our group a consistent experience at our wine exchanges.  They are our pride and joy and it is our pleasure to host them. Both Sausalido and Braddock’s put together great menu selections with different highlights in them. Even though Sausalido was selected for Christmas 2010, we hope that Braddock’s may be willing to continue to work with us for a future exchange.