Build Your Own Pho, Quick Work Lunch in a Jar

Build Your Own Pho, Quick Work Lunch in a Jar

To attempt a healthier me in 2016, I am now targeting my midday nourishment to make some changes. The first hurdle is that my work office only has a toaster oven and an electric kettle to cook with. What can be made that isn’t a frozen processed food in a box? I thought why not focus on the electric kettle (it was a Christmas gift). How about Vietnamese Pho.

Instant Homemade Soup In a Jar, Vietnamese Pho

So I found an article about Pho in a Jar. I’ve never really been big on actual recipes, so I used it for inspiration. I bought a 12-pack of 16 oz. jars and went off to get some fresh veggies, rice noodles and ground turkey as soup filling. The recipe calls for Miso soup base, but that isn’t easy to find in a regular grocery store.

Since I couldn’t find a Miso base, my first batch of Pho uses a chicken stock base. There were two different recipes I concocted. Here is the first:

Fake-Noodle Pho
1 tsp chicken soup base
3 to 5 oz fresh Asian vegetable mix (carrots, onion, snow peas, zucchini, red pepper)
3 oz bean sprouts
3 oz cooked ground turkey
1 lime wedge
soy and/or sriracha to taste

Step 1: Place soup base at the bottom of the jar. Layer with fresh vegetable mix (ensure the vegetables are chopped small enough that they can be eaten with a soup spoon), bean sprouts and ground turkey.

Step 2: Lay lime wedge on top. Add a shake of the soy sauce bottle and a small squeeze or sriracha, if desired. Close jar and refrigerate at least 8 hours.

The jar which rested over 24 hours packed more flavor, so Patience makes the Pho grow stronger.

Lunchtime: Open jar and add boiling water. Lightly cover and let rest for 5-8 minutes. Remove lime wedge and stir. Enjoy.

Lessons Learned:
– Don’t squeeze the lime wedge, the citrus/acid will be too intense. Resting the lime in the jar was plenty effective. I plan to try lime zest next time as an experiment.
– I added a shake of fish sauce to one and the fridge marination resulted in an intense smell. I didn’t feel it added enough flavor to the Pho.
– Don’t be afraid to pack the jar with extra of your favorite ingredient. During the marination and addition of water, it will lose some volume.

Just Add Water, Instant Vietnamese Pho

I look forward to trying it with a Miso base, with tofu, shrimp and other great combinations. Have a flavor combo that I should try? Comment below.

Executive Express Lunch perfect for downtown business people

Some restaurants have what it takes to put out multiple courses in a lunch hour and some don’t. Habitat Restaurant in Downtown Pittsburgh has it. Their clever 4-courses-1-plate approach is genius for the downtown worker trying to get in, get lunch and go during the lunch hour.  They call it the “Executive Express” lunch which is regularly priced at $18, but for Pittsburgh Restaurant Week Winter 2014 is discounted to just $14.

Executive Express Lunch at Habitat Restaurant
Executive Express Lunch at Habitat Restaurant on January 14, 2014.  Only $14 for Pittsburgh Restaurant Week.

Pictured above, the Executive Express Lunch items are a chef’s choice selection of a cup of soup, small salad, small sandwich and small dessert. In my opinion, you may not find better portion control anywhere else in the city.  Four courses at other restaurants take over an hour to eat and contain large portions.  At Habitat restaurant, I think it’s actually quite refreshing to have all four courses served at once.  Have a rough morning at the office? Gorge on the dessert course first.

Best of all, Habitat takes reservations on OpenTable so you know before you leave the office what time you’ll be seated so you can plan – and if necessary shift – your lunch hour accordingly.

Avenue B for Pittsburgh Restaurant Week Winter 2014

During Pittsburgh Restaurant Week, Avenue B offered an unpublished lunch special of a “Main Dish” plus a “Beginning” or “Dessert” for $20.14.  Because many items on Avenue B’s lunch menu aren’t pricy, you could feasibly be under $20 without the special.  So in all honesty the $20.14 combination is subject to what you choose.  Today for lunch I chose to sit by the window which provided for great lighting for photographs.

Avenue B Lunch Menu
Avenue B Lunch Menu for January 15, 2014

My dining partner couldn’t resist ordering the Pork shoulder poutine as a beginning. She twisted my arm asking that I partake.  So as a good friend, I obliged. The pork was so tender and juicy as a result of the braising process. Like many of the other items on the menu, this is served with sweet potato fries which appear to have a light dusting of sea salt for seasoning.    The onion straws were better to eat with your hands as they didn’t wrangle easily with a fork.  If we knew the portion size, I may have likely ordered a smaller entree for lunch.  Definitely a steal for only $10.

Pork Shoulder Poutine from Avenue B
Pork shoulder poutine, BBQ Demi, cheddar and fried onions.

Though the poutine had my stomach beyond 50% capacity, the burger arrived looking stellar.  You can see from the pictures that plating is a strength of Avenue B.  Ordered medium, the burger arrived cooked well and still hot.  The juices poured from the burger with each bite.  Luckily the bun was soft because I needed to pinch the sandwich together to fit it in my mouth.  After having sweet potato fries with the poutine, I opted to pick lightly at them and save room for dessert.

Burger from Avenue B
Burger with cheddar, arugula, truffle aoili served with sweet potato fries

And the dessert …

Blondie Torte from Avenue B
Blondie Torte dessert with a salted pretzel ice cream and crisped apple slices and caramel sauce

A whole-hearted fan of blondie brownies, I enjoyed the deconstruction / reconstruction of the blondie elements into this sweet dessert.  Officially listed as a torte, the item was basically two squares of a caramel-chocolate-shortbread cookie with salted pretzel ice cream between served atop some crisped apples covered in a lighter caramel sauce.  Don’t you want to just eat the picture?  I didn’t leave a trace on the plate and immediately needed some water to wash it all down.  Ideally, this would replace my afternoon coffee if the sugars carry me through the day.

Avenue B on UrbanspoonIn the end, a very positive experience at Avenue B.  My dining companion shared an adversion to goat cheese and her flatbread was served with goat cheese, even though it wasn’t listed in the description.  The waitress gladly removed the item from the bill and offered to correct it.  Luckily the poutine was filling and our minds were tuned toward dessert, so she opted not to get another dish.  The flatbread was visually delicious, though I can’t speak to its taste.  The service was great, the food was great and the company was great.  Great new restaurant experiences is what Pittsburgh Restaurant Week is all about.

Lunch at Meat & Potatoes for PghRestaurantWk

Autumn Salad
Autumn Salad from Meat and Potatoes during Pittsburgh Restaurant Week

Today on the third day of Pittsburgh Restaurant Week, I had my third dining experience of the celebration at Meat & Potatoes for lunch. The special for the day was an Autumn Salad, Chili-crusted Grouper Tacos and Tiramasu.  The special at M&P changes each day, so it’d be difficult to send anyone back to have an identical dining experience.

Grouper Tacos
Grouper Tacos from Meat and Potatoes during Pittsburgh Restaurant Week
Tiramasu from Meat and Potatoes during Pittsburgh Restaurant Week

Autumn Salad. The salad was good, even though I ate around the blue cheese since I’m not crazy about that. The dressing was a blackberry vinaigrette, which came atop the salad. Though you can’t tell from the picture, the candied nuts had rolled to the bottom of the bowl and were a nice crunch after eating my greens. The beets were sliced thin, which frankly made them difficult to wrangle with a fork. Overall, a nice salad, but would probably opt for something else next time.

Chili-Crusted Grouper Tacos. The tacos themselves were grouper, pico de gallo with a light slaw. Very nice flavor profile and a light but filling entree. The fries came as a surprise, or I missed when the waitress read the menu to us. They were a nice compliment to the taco, though if I had to choose between fries and a third taco, i’d choose taco every time.

Tiramasu. Dessert was served in a cute little mason jar, common for desserts at M&P. However, this dessert was either frozen and let melt too long, or the cream never set. The dessert was soupy. Did it taste bud, oh heck no. It was delicious. But I think it lacked a little on execution. M&P is certainly a hot spot downtown and my lunch may not have been their finest hour, but it won’t stop me from going back. The place has a nice ambiance which any office worker would welcome as an escape midday.

Meat & Potatoes on UrbanspoonThree courses in the lunch hour is tough. (Habitat knows what they are doing with the Executive Express lunch which is four courses on one plate.) Since it was a lunch meeting, it didn’t break my heart that it ran over the hour.

Wiener Fight, Detroit vs Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh-style Hot Dog vs Detroit-style Hot Dog from Franktuary in Downtown Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh-style Hot Dog vs Detroit-style Hot Dog from Franktuary in Downtown Pittsburgh

From one end of the spectrum to the other, Pittsburgh is home to both Burgatory (sinful burgers) and Franktuary (heavenly hot dogs).  I have no idea if these two restaurants conspired to be polar opposites, but they certainly both make an impact with their take on such a simple food.

Franktuary is a hot dog shoppe in Downtown Pittsburgh located in the basement of a church off Oliver Ave.  Upon gazing across the menu during my first visit to Franktuary, I found it only fitting to put rival hockey towns of Pittsburgh and Detroit against each other in a gourmet hot dog battle.

In our first corner …
Pittsburgh-style Gourmet Hot Dog – standard frank topped with a smooshed pierogi and cole slaw ($3.90)
In the other corner …
Detroit-style Classic Hot Dog –  standard frank topped with chili, yellow mustard and chopped onion ($3.40)

Coming out of the gate, the Pittsburgh dog is very colorful thanks to the red cabbage slaw covering the frank.  On first bite, it became obvious it was going to be a very messy experience.  The slaw had a vinegary-creamy feel to it which resulted in the white moisture running down the side of my bun.  Beneath the slaw was a potato pierogi that has been cut/smashed/smooshed the length of the dog.

The Detroit-style dog  is almost your traditional chili dog.  The chili was extremely delicious and kept the hot dog warm.  The mustard added a tartness and the onion was fresh and crisp.

Franktuary on UrbanspoonLuckily for our hometown Penguins, hot dogs don’t determine the outcome of the playoffs.  Though the Pittsburgh-style Hot Dog pays homage to our hometown. I have mixed feelings about a mashed potato on my hot dog.  Detroit wins this battle (this time) as their style was both tastier and more cohesive as a flavor profile.

Hook, Line and Sinker – The Original Fish Market making a comeback

The Original Fish Market offers Outdoor Dining off the back patio
The Original Fish Market offers Outdoor Dining off the back patio

Remaking a classic isn’t always easy, but that is what the Original Fish Market is about to do in Downtown Pittsburgh.  In its hay-day, OFM used to be listed among the premier seafood restaurants in Pittsburgh.  Sadly, they have been challenged to keep up with the times and their name has slowly been left out of those rankings over recent years, but it appears that the winds are starting to change and the restaurant is vying to regain its distinction among Steel City seafood restaurants.

Updated Post or Revisit:
April 29, 2014 – Downtown Pittsburgh Sushi from the Original Fish Market

If you’ve ever been to the OFM, it is clear that they are inside of the Westin hotel, however many folks are interested to know that though they are physically inside the hotel, the are not the “hotel restaurant”.

Crab Bisque
A cup of Crab Bisque

Recently, before saying so-long to a fellow employee, I took a gaggle of co-workers out for lunch to enjoy some of the fishy lunch items on the OFM menu.  To my surprise, I was the only person in the group who had eaten at the OFM in quite some time.  After making a reservation on OpenTable, we were greeted and sat promptly.

Being in the “in-foodie-crowd,” I’d recently discovered that OFM had a new executive chef at the helm and it wasn’t difficult to see that he has already started making his mark on the menu.  The OFM menu tends to change daily with the available ingredients, but I was pleased to discover that the verbal special from my previous visit just a few weeks prior had made it onto the printed menu.  And, I wasted no time ordering it again – the Tilapia Bahn Mi Sandwich with Old Bay french fries.  The sandwich is a seafood spin on the Vietnamese staple.  Having the sandwich for the second time, I found it to be less spicy than before – frankly I missed the spice.

Tilapia Bahn Mi with old bay french fries
Tilapia Bahn Mi with old bay french fries

It was nice to go to lunch, have a great meal with pleasant service and get back to my co-workers back to work within the lunch hour.  I look forward to my next visit to OFM when they open up their back patio.  I hope that they do something fun with kabobs and drinks for a happy hour so I can nibble and sip my way into the start of a summer weekend.

Original Fish Market on Urbanspoon

A food court alternative, Cafe Nordstrom

Nordstrom's Marketplace Café on Urbanspoon

Every mall in America has a food court, but with the addition of Nordstroms in Ross Park Mall, shoppers have an alternative to fast-food fare called Cafe Nordstrom.
While doing some spring shopping, we decided to have a sit down at the cafe. I got the Roma Tomato Basil Soup and Horseradish Roast Beef Sandwich.  TasteBudA got the Soup du Jour of Chicken and Peppers with the Turkey Club Panini.
The menu doesn’t provide enough detail or indicate what dishes come with, so we were flying blind as we ordered.  My soup was creamy and delicious.  To my surprise, it was served with a crisp, cheesy toast that was great to dip in the tomato soup.  The flavors of the soup were well developed, and a cup was just the right size for lunch.

Horseradish Roast Beef Sandwich with side salad and dark cherry balsamic dressing

My sandwich was served on an onion roll which was soft and hearty – almost too much.  The meat was freshly sliced and was complimented with the horseradish spread.  The sandwich was certainly satisfying and I would recommend it.  To acccompany my sandwich, I chose to get a side salad.  The salad looked amazing and the unique black cherry balsamic dressing was to die for.  I could have had just the salad and been happy with my experience.
TasteBudA enjoyed his selections but felt that he could have had the same meal and experience at Panera Bread.  The food was quality and the atmosphere was warm.  When I tasted his soup, I thought the soup could have had more flavor, but was good.
Overall, the lunch was nice and a preferred option to the food court.  I wouldn’t visit the mall just to try the cafe, but its location is conducive to the shopping crowd.


French Goodness in Sewickley

Cafe Des Amis on UrbanspoonTastebud B and I wanted to get out of the city for a bit and venture north of Pittsburgh to a little place called Sewickley.  Sewickley has a small town feel and look with mom and pop businesses, churches, schools a couple of stop lights but most importantly a French cafe called Cafe Des Amis.

Cafe des Amis Counter

Cafe Des Amis is a cool little place that is inviting as soon as you enter.  As you approach the counter to place your order you will see a case full of quiche, bread pudding, sliced fresh fruit, and even coconut macaroons.

With so many options I finally decided on the Tomato and Basil Quiche with a side of fresh fruit and coffee.  Being that it is March I was shocked how fresh and delicious the fruit was.  The quiche was good and satisfying.

Tomato and Basil Quiche with fresh fruit

TastebudB ordered chicken salad on a croissant with the tomato lentil soup.  The chicken salad was extemely creamy and fresh.  The flavors melded well and the greens on the sandwich with bright.  Unlike most of the dry, croissant sandwiches he’s had in the past, the croissant was delectably fluffly and fresh (not dry at all) which made the chicken salad the focus of the sandwich.  The soup however was warm, but the flavors simply had not developed.

Chicken Salad Croissant with Tomato Lentil Soup

After we finished our lunch we decided that we just had to try the Bread Pudding we saw in the case that looked absolutely amazing.  It tasted even better!  The Bread Pudding was the true highlight of our visit.  Tastebud B took some top quality pics of it!

Bread pudding, warmed and sliced with a dollop of whipped cream

After our visit, we highly recommend that everyone gives Cafe Des Amis a visit sometime in the near future.  Don’t forget that they are also BYOB and even have crepes on the menu!  And, when you are done with lunch don’t forget to take a stroll around beautiful Sewickley and everything else it has to offer.