Pittsburgh’s Butcher and the Rye

Last weekend, the Hubs and I made our annual pilgrimage to Pittsburgh to watch the Penguins play hockey. I had some hotel points to burn, so we made a whole weekend out of it and went up Friday afternoon, before the game on Saturday. As our usual M.O., we wanted to grab some unique food while we were in the city, and Butcher and the Rye came highly recommended by some friends who are also Penguins fans and make regular trips.

Add us to the list of people singing the praises of this place. It was amazeballs.

First, the place is a little hipster. Okay, a lot hipster. But don’t let that annoy you, actually, distract yourself looking at the list of over 350 different kinds of whiskey. Yes, friends, 350 plus kinds… This is the place to go if you are whiskey afficionado and want to try something you’ll never find anywhere else.

Butcher and the Rye (2)

whiskey, whiskey every where

Our reservations were in the upstairs bar area, which was cozy and intimate with a low tables and couches and low lights. We had some bourbon cocktails, that were so tasty. I usually like bourbon just on the rocks, but it was too hard not to order from the menu since they seemed so thoughtfully developed. The Hubs had the Rye Buck, which we are going to try to recreate (Erin Wolfe, I might need your help!) It was Bulleit Rye with St. Germaine (an elderflower liqueur), fresh lemon, lime and ginger. I had the Lion’s Tail, which was Buffalo Trace, fresh lime and allspice Dram. The Rye Buck was better, but not by much.

Butcher and the Rye

We decided to order some small plates and split them instead of ordering entrees because we simply couldn’t decide. We ended up with the tartare, which was served with the usual toast and egg yolk. But this one had a spicy, tangy black garlic aioli that gave it a bit of a bite. It was perfect with it, since tartare can be really rich.

We also got the charcuterie plate and the beef bone marrow. The charcuterie was awesome. It had bresola and proscuitto, which were good, but nothing particularly special. But what stood out for us was the beef heart pepperoni (Yes, beef. heart. I am going to try this. I’m not even kidding.) and something we think was duck lardo something. We’re not really sure, but it’s that orange-ish glob (this sounds real appetizing, I know). It was “slap your grandma” good. We fought over the last bite of it. It was like a rich, salty, fatty pudding or something.

Butcher and the Rye (3)

The bone marrow was the homerun of the night. I don’t even know why they fooled with putting those two pieces of bread with short ribs and what tasted like barbeque sauce on there. It totally didn’t go with the bone marrow. It might have been fantastic on it’s own, but beside this jewel, it just was disappointing because it wasn’t also bone marrow. If you’ve ever read the book Julie and Julia, Julie Powell’s description of bone marrow is pretty spot on now that I’ve tried it for myself. I’ll leave it at that. If you ever see this on a menu and the restaurant doesn’t seem kinda shady, do yourself a favor and order it. You will not regret it.

I don’t think the meat shop we get our half beef cut up at will give me some beef leg bones, but I’m gonna ask. It never hurts to ask, but this butcher already thinks I’m a weirdo, I’m sure, since I ask for all the offal that no one else wants. This year we got three beef hearts, one package of ox tail, two tongues and several pounds of calf’s liver. I’ll see if he can hook me up with some marrow bones next year.

There is one weird thing about this place, and it’s the ladies room. I don’t get it. Maybe they’re trying to be even more hipster. I dunno. But the stalls are seriously like waist high. It’s kinda awkward, and thank God no one came in there when I was in there, because it would have just been weird to look someone in the eye while you’re peeing. Also, the bathroom is seriously tiny, so it’s not like you can just mill around over in the corner while you wait for half-stall to open up. You would just have to stand there and awkwardly try to look at the floor or your nails or your phone or whatever while the person in the stall does there business. God forbid you have to drop a deuce.

Butcher and the Rye (4)

Yeah, I took a picture of the bathroom. Because you had to see this to believe it.

Luckily, there’s a lock on the door if you feel too weird about this, and there’s also a unisex bathroom (and a men’s room) which I assume does not have this set up. Just a little tip: pee before you go there.

For two rounds and three small plates, our bill was around 95 bucks before the tip. I would say it was well worth every crumb. Even if you just pop in for a drink and don’t order food, this place is seriously legit when it comes to the bar. We can’t wait to go back.

The legal jargon: There are some embedded links with affiliate programs. I get a teeny tiny kickback if you buy something through that link. Don’t worry though, I’m def not makin’ bank here.


The Feast of the Seven Fishes Festival

The past few years, for Christmas Eve dinner at my mom’s, we observe the Feast of the Seven Fishes. We’re not Catholic, or even Italian, for that matter. We just really like seafood. We already were having shrimp on Christmas Eve, so why not just up the ante and supplement it with six more seafood dishes. So we just started celebrating it, and we’ve never looked back.

Last weekend, my mom and I traveled up I-79 to take in some Italian-American and Catholic culture at the Feast of the Seven Fishes Festival in Fairmont. The Feast of the Seven Fishes is a Catholic observance for Christmas Eve originating in Southern Italy, featuring a dinner with seven different fish dishes. It has connections to the practice of avoiding meat (fish doesn’t count) on Fridays for Lent.

The Feast of the Seven Fishes Festival has been going on for the past few years. A side-street in downtown Fairmont is blocked off to traffic, and vendors selling crafts, food, drinks and other items set up booths lining both sides of the street. Live music and a cooking demo are the feature events.

Feast of the Seven Fishes Festival (9)

We planned on going to the cooking demo to get some ideas for this year’s dinner on Christmas Eve. We were actually a little late getting there because the weather was not cooperating. It was patchy freezing drizzle all the way up the interstate, which made the bridges really slick. We got to the cooking demo right after the first course was served, but we got our complimentary glasses of wine and sat down, and the servers brought the first course around to us when we got settled. It was home-cured salmon on what looked like water crackers. I’m a huge fan of salmon, especially cured, and this tasted amazing. The second course was a caesar salad, with probably the best salad dressing I’ve ever tasted. It had such a fresh and sharp taste, with the black pepper and anchovies. I think what made the dressing so good was that it was literally made minutes before we ate it. Salad dressing is definitely one of those things that doesn’t get better by sitting around for hours. I cannot wait to try the recipe for the dressing myself. It’s seriously a game-changer. The next course was a fish soup. It was different from other fish soups that I’ve had because it wasn’t a tomato-based broth like Manhattan clam chowder or a cream-based soup, either. The recipe called for chicken or vegetable stock, which kept it nice and light. This is key when you’re eating seven courses.

Feast of the Seven Fishes Festival (5)

A really funny thing–something that only happens in West Virginia–happened next. We were sitting in the back row, since we got there late. The man who made the fish soup, Robert Tinnell, came around to the back of the room after his demo was over and his course was served to the crowd. He asked us if we liked the soup. We told him that we did, and my mom commented that his last name was spelled just like her mother’s maiden name, and joked that they might be related. After quizzing each other about grandfathers and great uncles and other ancestors, it turns out they are! We don’t have that much of a connection with that part of our family because most of them have died off, so it was so nice to make a new acquaintance that is also from that side of the family. I’m a junkie for geneology, and he had pictures from the family farm in Virginia and the cemetery, so I was immediately wanting to sit down with a notebook and pen and write down everything he knows about the Tinnells. We’re going to try to get together sometime soon and “have old home week,” as we say here in West Virginia.

He and his wife actually wrote a cookbook called The Feast of the Seven Fishes. The book grew out of a comic strip about an Italian-American family, and the cookbook is interspersed with comics and stories surrounding the food and festivities. His wife, Shannon, demonstrated a couple of the courses, including a delicious spicy mussels dish at the cooking demo, and needless to say, together, they are an authority on Feast of the Seven Fishes dishes. The proof is in the pudding–er, soup and mussels.

The remaining courses followed in a flurry, and included scallops with a creamy lemon sauce over pasta and arancini, rice balls made from leftover risotto mixed with cheese, breaded and fried. We’ve decided to incorporate the caesar salad, fish soup and arancini into our Christmas Eve dinner.

Local chef M.K. Olinger

Local chef M.K. Olinger

After the cooking demo, we walked through the festival, peeking to see what vendors were selling in the booths along the street. Most of the booths were selling food items, which looked delicious. I saw pizelles and lupini beans for sale, and I almost stopped to buy some. A coworker who used to work in my office was from the Fairmont area and had Italian heritage, and used to treat us to these goodies when she would come back from a trip back home.

Feast of the Seven Fishes Festival

Pizelles and other goodies for sale

There was even a wine tasting competition. I didn’t stay around for the results, but I’ll bet they were all delicious.

Feaste of the Seven Fishes Festival (6)

There was such an atmosphere of community pride, and of course Christmas spirit. Big propane heaters were lined up the middle of the street, and folks were standing around high-top tables eating food from the booths and enjoying local wine and beer and telling stories. I would have loved to pull up a spot at one of the tables and shoot the breeze with the white-haired guys holding court, but we had to head back.

The festival is always held the second Saturday in December, and is worth the trip. It was definitely worth the trek up the interstate for us, especially since we connected with long, lost family and got some wonderful recipes for our dinner. I definitely want to go back next year to see what new recipes I can get. And maybe I’ll pick up some of those pizelles.

Eggnog Protein Smoothies

Do y’all know what is crazy?

I realized the other day it’s DECEMBER. Where did 2014 go? It seems like it was only a few months ago we were hanging up a new 2014 calendar.

Right around this time last year (I still swear that can’t be right…) the Hubs and I were talking about making protein smoothies a thing that we did for breakfast. At first it was just going to be for the month of January. To kickstart some healthy habits. I always seem to do that in January–resolving to be more healthy and such.

But January turned into spring, and that turned into summer, and next thing you know, it’s December. And we’re still having protein smoothies pretty much every day for breakfast. I’ve never stuck with any “health” habit that long before.

Are we healthier because of it? Probably not. But it did streamline weekday mornings and turn them from something that used to be super hectic and stressful into something a little less.

The problem that I’ve found, when you eat protein smoothies for a whole year, is that you run out of recipes and get tired of the ones you really like. There are a handful that are tasty and that you don’t have to have a whole bunch of exotic ingredients on hand to make. That’s a biggie for me. I want to make a smoothie with what is in my pantry (or fridge) and without having to drop $30 at the health food store. Add to the fact that I want these smoothies to actually be healthy and filling. That’s more difficult task that you would imagine.

Sometime in the past three or so years, I started liking eggnog. I used to gag at the mention of it when I was younger. “You mean there’s raw eggs in it? Gross!” Not realizing how many things I already ate that had raw eggs in them, or seeing the connection with eating sunnyside up eggs. I’m chalking it up to youthful ignorance. Once I tried it, especially with bourbon (something else I used to not like), I was sold. It is so yummy. But so bad for you… Hard to have in moderation.

I don’t know where, but I got the genius idea somehow to take the eggnog flavor that I love and and make it into a breakfast protein smoothie. More eggnog in my life this time of year is a good thing, and not the kind that will make you a diabetic.

I’ve been playing around with recipes the last couple weeks. There was quite a bit of research that went into this one. Because it’s hard to make something healthy taste like eggnog. Which is not healthy.

eggnog shake

Eggnog Protein Smoothie (makes 2)

  • 1 cup unsweetened almond milk
  • 1 very ripe banana
  • 1/3 cup plain nonfat greek yogurt
  • 1 serving vanilla protein powder (I use Manitoba Harvest Organic Hemp Protein Powder)
  • 2 Tb pure maple syrup
  • 1 Tb pure vanilla extract
  • 1 Tb bourbon
  • 1 Tb flax seed meal
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1 tsp brown sugar (optional if you like it a little sweeter)
  • 4 or 5 ice cubes

Put everything in a blender in this order. Blend for 1 or 2 minutes until smooth. Makes around 24 ounces. Divide between two glasses and top with a little extra nutmeg.

Now, before you give me some side eye for putting actual BOURBON in a BREAKFAST smoothie, let me explain something to you. I looked into buying some bourbon extract for this. But it was kinda pricey. I knew that you can make, say vanilla, extract at home. So I looked up how to do that, thinking maybe I could make bourbon extract. To make flavor extract, you soak whatever flavor you’re using, like vanilla beans, in alcohol. Like vodka. If you read the label on a bottle of real flavor extract (not imitation flavors) you’ll see that the number one ingredient is alcohol. So I’m gonna buy some vodka to soak some charred oak chips in to make my own bourbon extract? Makes no sense to me. You only use a teeny bit in this smoothie, so it’s not like you’re going to catch a buzz. It’s the flavor you’re after. You can use bourbon extract for this if you’re more comfortable with that, and it might even taste better since the flavor will be more concentrated (reduce the amount in the recipe), but I wasn’t going to drop coin on that since I have a perfectly good bottle of bourbon in my kitchen anyway.

I really like this particular kind of protein powder because it is high in fiber and has like three ingredients, which I can pronounce. If you regularly use another kind, that’s cool. This protein powder seems like it is geared more toward making you full–since it’s high in fiber. Not really so much for helping you get muscle-y. By all means, if you’re trying to get muscle-y, use the stuff that makes you muscle-y.

When we first started with the smoothies, I was skeptical that I wouldn’t be hungry by like 9:30 a.m. But actually, these smoothies are pretty filling. The fiber in the protein powder helps with that, and the banana does, too. The banana also gives the smoothie some bulk and keeps it from being so runny. If you freeze the bananas, they work even better, but I usually just use a fresh one. If it’s not kinda ripe, though, I think it does give the smoothies an off-taste. Like unripe banana. Maybe that doesn’t bother anyone else, but I don’t like it.

eggnog shake (2)

This definitely isn’t as good as the real deal eggnog, but that would be pretty hard to do. At least you can not feel so naughty if you have these to get you’re eggnog fix in. Or maybe you will feel naughty. I suppose there is actual booze in them.

Split Pea and Ham Soup

For one of the two ThJJ anksgiving dinners that my mother-in-law cooked, she made a gigantic ham. I mean a seriously massive ham. Like twenty-eight pounds or something. One you would need to go H.A.M. on to finish. (Does anybody else immediately thing of Jay-Z when they eat ham? I do.)

I had a bag of split peas in my “food grotto” that I had been waiting for some leftover ham to make. Not that I’ve ever tried it, but I just don’t think split pea soup would be worth eating without ham in it. I’m obviously not willing to try that.

So, last weekend, I got around to making a big pot of split pea soup with the ham I put in the freezer and that bag of split peas. And some smoked turkey stock. Because that’s how I roll.

split pea soup with ham

It was perfect weather for soup, anyway, since it was gray and cold. And this is prime time to be eating bone broth to ward off the nasties like colds. Seriously, bone broth is practically a super food. I read last week that there have been outfits opening across the country selling the stuff for like $4 for eight ounces. Ouch. It’s super easy to make it yourself. I basically put a chicken (or turkey) carcass in my crockpot with a few carrot peelings or bits of onion and a splash of white wine or cider vinegar, fill it up with water and cook it on low for about 24 hours. I have been making a conscious effort to get it into my diet more the older I get, since I like to think it helps your nails, hair and skin, and eases aches and pains that I get in my knees more and more these days. Read this article from Dr. Mercola’s website to get the low down on why it is so good for you. Turns out grandma was right about eating chicken soup to feel better when you’re sick. But only if you make it like this. Don’t even fool with the stuff from the can. Yuck.

I was looking through a couple of my cookbooks for the recipe I previously used for split pea soup, and I couldn’t seem to find one I liked. So, I just went rogue and made my own. I thought you guys might like to give it a try, should you ever be faced with a huge pile of leftover ham like I was.

Split Pea and Ham Soup (5-6 generous servings)

  • 2 Tb extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 quarts chicken, turkey or vegetable stock preferrably homemade)
  • 2 cups diced leftover tavern ham (or whatever kind of you might happen to have)
  • 4 cups dried split peas
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 Tb hot sauce

In a large pot, heat the olive oil on medium heat. Add the onion, carrot and garlic when the oil is hot and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions and carrots are soft. Be careful not to burn the garlic. Add the stock, ham and split peas. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer and cover. Cook 30 minutes until peas are tender and falling apart. Add the hot sauce. Cook another five minutes or so.


I didn’t add much salt because the ham is kinda salty on it’s own, so you might wanna watch that. Also, I had smoked turkey stock, which is wonderful, but any chicken or turkey or vegetable stock would work just fine. My in-laws have a smoker, and I always grab the carcass when they smoke a turkey. It makes amazing stock. Split peas, like any peas, are really sweet, and I think you really need the salty, smokey taste from the ham to balance them out. Which is why you need to add the hot sauce. It gives it just the slightest bite. You know how much you love stuff that is hot AND sweet. Like wings. Or Chinese food. It’s a winning combo. I use Crystal hot sauce for cooking because it’s not really that hot. I’m a total baby when it comes to hot sauce. Some people probably would hate it because it’s not hot enough. By all means, if you like it hot, add more or use the real hot stuff. It’s a matter of preference. You can even add it in when you serve it. This soup would be great with cornbread, hot pepper cornbread, actually. And, it only gets better when it’s leftover.


PROJECT RECIPE: Ginger “beef” mushroom and kale stir-fry

I love a good stir-fry. So quick and easy. Generally healthy. As so, so, tasty.

I ran across this recipe for Ginger Beef, Kale and Mushroom stir-fry from Gimme Some Oven on Pinterest. Kale is pretty much my crack, and those gorgeous pictures on Pinterest of the pulled me right in. Seriously, my mouth was watering reading the post. Don’t look at it right before lunch. Actually, Ali was at MixedCon the first year I went. She won the Dreamfields mac and cheese recipe contest with her roasted veggie mac and cheese. I still make that from time to time. It really is a fantastic recipe.

The stir-fry It sounded perfect for a weeknight dinner. And I have some venison in the freezer from last year that needs moved. Pronto. I thought this would be a great way to use it.

Turns out I was right.

I had a package of “backstrap” (the inner tenderloin, aka “sweet meat”, or whatever you want to call it…), which is actually a really really tender cut. I substituted it for the beef in this recipe, as you can with some cuts of venison fairly easily. It’s so tender, it’s ideal for a quick-cooking stir-fry, as it can become tough if you overcook it.

ginger beef stir fry (1)

PROJECT RECIPE verdict: By the length of time it took this dinner to disappear, it’s no doubt a keeper. It was so quick and easy, too. The one thing I would likely change next time I make it, though, is only use 1 tablespoon of rice wine vinegar. It’s just a taste thing for me. The finished dish was a little too tangy, but some probably really like that.

How I changed the recipe: I used tsatsoi from my cold frame instead of kale. I intended on using kale, but it was sold out from the Monroe Farm Market last week. I guess other people love kale as much as I do. I need to find ways to use this tsatsoi anyway. I don’t know if it will survive super cold temps that will be here before you know it. It’s a nice bitter Asian green anyway, that is perfect in stir-fries. I also used oyster mushrooms rather than shittake and button because that’s what I had. That’s pretty much all I changed. Except for the meat.

ginger beef stir fry

If you’re looking for something to make for dinner, do yourself a favor and head on over to Ali’s blog through the links embedded. It is chock full of beautiful recipes, many of them really quick, easy and tasty. The ginger beef stir-fry is definitely worth trying.

Asian Glazed Salmon

Last week, as I was making a menu and store list for December, I found a beautiful recipe for miso glazed fish in my Martha Stewart Dinner at Home cookbook. I love this cookbook because it is arranged by season and it has 52 complete meals, with a main dish, appetizer and dessert. Martha Stewart might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but homegirl knows what’s up when it comes to doing dinner right.

Anyway, I thought I had everything I needed to make this, but I realized I didn’t have enough miso when I got ready to make it. So, I had to come up with something on the fly. I think Asian flavors just naturally go with the taste of salmon, so I grabbed some soy sauce, ginger garlic and honey. This turned out great and and I wanted to share the recipe.


soy sauce and honey glazed salmon (2)

Asian Glazed Salmon (serves 2 or 3–easily doubles)

  • 2 or 3 filets of salmon
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 2 Tb honey
  • 1 Tb ginger, minced
  • 1 Tb garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1 tsp Chinese five spice
  • dash red pepper flakes
  • 1 green onion, chopped
  • sesame seeds

 In a small bowl, mix the soy sauce, honey, ginger, garlic sesame oil, Chinese five spice and pepper flakes. Whisk until the honey is completely dissolved–or not gloppy. That is the technical term… gloppy. Put the salmon in a glass baking dish (I used 8 X 8, but it was a little snug). Pour the honey mixture over them and let them sit at room temperature for about 15 minutes. Carefully flip them and let them sit about 15 more minutes. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 15 to 20 minutes, uncovered. Turn on your broiler, and place just under a high broiler for a minute or two (watch it closely) to get a nice brown on the salmon. (I didn’t do this step, but it would have been even better if I would have. I’ll do it next time.) Garnish with green onion and sesame seeds.

I love it when a recipe falls together like this, when you didn’t have the ingredients you need. I’ve come up with some of my favorite dishes by improvising with what I had on hand. This one is sure to be in the regular rotation, since it was so quick and easy. Perfect for weeknights. Maybe Martha would like me to be a contributor to her next cookbook. Nah, probably not, actually.

 soy sauce and honey glazed salmon


Thanksgiving Leftovers Soup

I hope all of you had a fabulous Thanksgiving filled with faces of people you love and lots of food. Mine was. Oh, So. Much. Food.

By Saturday evening, still facing down piles of leftovers, I couldn’t bring myself to eat another plate of reheated turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy and pie. The Hubs and I went out on the town for dinner to a local joint to celebrate Small Business Saturday. And Sunday afternoon, I turned what was leftover into a delicious soup.

After having Thanksgiving leftovers for three days, I was ready for something a little less heavy anyway. And soup is an easy way to transform those tired old holiday dishes into something wonderful.

Turkey Leftovers Soup (2)

Thanksgiving Leftovers Soup (Serves 8)

  • 1 Tb extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 4 gloves garlic, minced
  • 2 carrots, chopped
  • 1 quart turkey stock (see note)
  • 1 quart vegetable broth
  • 2 cups turkey, chopped into 1-inch pieces
  • 2 cups whatever vegetables you have like green beans (not green bean casserole)–I used a can of chopped asparagus
  • 2 cups crushed tomatoes
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 tsp dried ground sage
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1/2 cup turkey gravy
  • 1 cup boiled or roasted potato pieces, optional

In a large pot, heat the olive oil on medium until hot. Add the onion, garlic and carrot, and saute for a 5-7 minutes until the vegetables soften. Stir often to keep the garlic from burning. Add the stock and broth, turkey, vegetables and tomatoes. Taste and add salt and pepper if needed. Add the spices. Bring the soup up to a simmer, then reduce heat and cover. Let simmer 2o minutes. Add the gravy and potatoes. Replace lid and simmer another 10 minutes. Serve and enjoy!

Turkey Leftovers Soup

Homemade turkey stock is a no-brainer in this recipe since presumably you have turkey leftovers. Once dinner is over on Thanksgiving, remove all the remaining meat from the bones. Toss the carcass and any aromatics like onions or apples you might have used in the cavity into your slow cooker. Add about 1/4 cup of white wine (or 1-2 Tb cider vinegar) and fill the slow cooker with water. Add a bay leaf. Or not. And season with salt and pepper. Cook on low for at least 12 hours, although 24 makes it even better. Once it’s ready, remove what’s left of the bones, etc, and strain the stock. Voila! You have homemade turkey stock.

Be careful with salt in this recipe. I didn’t salt it at all because my turkey was brined (probably overly brined) and I used a random can of asparagus pieces and stems from the pantry that contained salt. The gravy was a little salty, too, since it was made with the juices from the turkey after it cooked. (Store-bought gravies are often salty, too). The flavor of the soup turned out just perfect without adding any salt.

Turkey Leftovers Soup (1)

I’m enjoying this in my lunch this week. It’s a nice light contrast to all the overindulging in heavy meals I did last week. That is especially important this time of year.