Saturday, March 30, 2013

5 Prospects to Watch in 2013

If you're a Pittsburgh Pirate fan, even if you just follow the major league team, you've probably heard about Gerrit Cole.  Future ace, flame throwing pitcher that hits 100 mph, #1 overall pick in 2011.  You've probably also heard of Jameson Taillon, too.  Ace potential, more likely a strong #2, huge fastball as well, #2 overall pick in 2010 (behind Bryce Harper).  After that, you might have heard about "that Mexican kid" (Luis Heredia) or that shortstop we have (Alen Hanson) or maybe the "next great outfielder" (Gregory Polanco).

So who are some prospects that casual fans may not have heard about that could be in line for great seasons?

Nick Kingham, RHP -- Kingham is a near certainty to start in Bradenton this year.  Kingham is a big bodied (6'-5") pitcher who looks to be a 200-inning workhorse one day.  He's a 2010 draft pick that has progressed nicely with a low to mid-90's fastball, with a decent curve and changeup.  It wouldn't be a total surprise to see Kingham get a late season promotion to Altoona if he has a good start to 2013.

Dilson Herrera, 2B -- With the huge breakout of Alen Hanson in 2012, now every prospector is looking for The Next Alen Hanson.  Most people feel that Dilson Herrera is that player, due to his similar small stature (5'-10") and big power profile for his size (8 HR between GCL and a cameo at State College).  Herrera, like Hanson, is a great candidate to skip short-season and play 2013 at West Virginia.  Herrera, like Hanson, strikes out a little too much but also can draw a walk, too.  If the Pirates didn't promote Hanson during his massive 2012, neither will Herrera get bumped up, so expect to see him at WV all year.

Robby Rowland, RHP -- Rowland came over last spring from the Diamondbacks in exchange for Brett Lorin.  With the D-backs, Rowland couldn't escape short-season ball due to horrible control and command.  But the Pirates took Rowland and taught him the 2-seamer sinker with great success.  He pitches to contact now and has sped up his work process, allowing his defense to do the work.  Rowland should also be in the Bradenton rotation along Kingham.  Ultimately, Rowland is a #3 or #4 starter at his peak, but those have huge value nowadays, too.

Tyler Glasnow, RHP -- Glasnow is a real gigantor, standing 6'-8" and seemingly still growing.  His fastball velocity continues to grow along with him.  Glasnow was drafted with an 89-91 mph fastball that in 2012 started to peak out at 96 mph.  This season should see Glasnow sit mid-90's and peak around 96-98 mph.  Glasnow is the furthest away from the majors of these first 4 guys, as he could start the season either at Jamestown (new short-season affiliate) or extended Spring Training to limit his innings pitched and then send him to West Virginia.  Glasnow needs to upgrade his changeup and curveball, but his pure potential puts him right next to Heredia and Taillon.

Barrett Barnes, OF -- When Mark Appel spurned the Pirates in 2012, Barrett Barnes became the highest-signed draft pick in the 1st supplemental round (thanks Ryan Doumit!).  Barnes started off very hot, showing both power and speed (5 HR and 10 SB in just 125 AB's), until his season came to an end with a leg injury.  Barnes is healthy and ready to go, with an outside chance to get accelerated to Bradenton in his first full season.  There's also a chance he goes to WV, which isn't the worst thing in the world, but a High A assignment would speak well of his development and put him in the same OF as Polanco.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Brewers Will Finish in Last Place in 2013

Just 5 days from now, the Pirates will embark on the 2013 season attempting to halt their epic losing streak before it is eligible to drink.  Personally, I think they'll do it (83 wins is my prediction), but this quasi-preview of the NL Central is going to focus mostly on the Milwaukee Brewers.

A couple of days ago, the Brewers fell prey to agent Scott Boras's Jedi Mind Trick and ended up signing "victim of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement" Kyle Lohse to a 3 year - $33M contract.  On the surface, $11M for the services of Lohse is not bad, except once you figure in that Lohse will be 34/35/36 during this contract and there is the nagging suspicion that he was a product of the St. Louis system.

Four seasons ago, Lohse had a 4.74 ERA and a 1.37 WHIP.  Three seasons ago it was 6.55 ERA and a 1.78 WHIP (in only 117 and 92 innings, respectively).  So now Lohse had this unbelievable renaissance at ages 32 and 33?  (Don't type PED's.  Don't type PED's.  Gaaaaahhh.  Too late).  So in 2012 he puts up a 16-3 record with a 2.86 ERA and 1.08 WHIP?

The kicker for the Brewers is that by signing Lohse, who declined a 1 year/$13.3M qualifying offer from the Cardinals, the Brew Crew forfeits their 1st round pick (17th overall) and the portion of their signing pool that goes with it (it was $2M last year).  In the new paradigm of draft rules, that money going out the window only decreases their options of signing players.  Last year, teams drafting in the 16-18 range had approximately $4.4 to $5.2M in their draft pool to spend on their top 10 round picks.  So now the Brewers will have $2M less than that to complete their draft, severely hampering their maneuverability.

Furthering complicating things for the outlook of the Brewers is the fact that Baseball America ranked their farm system 23rd.  The Brewers have no impact players on the horizon, especially of the Ryan Braun-Prince Fielder level.  There's an interesting mid-rotation starter in Wily Peralta, but not of the Gerrit Cole-Jameson Taillon tier of talent.

Even with the signing of Lohse, the Brewers rotation is dangerously thin.  Pirate-killer Yovani Gallardo will form a decent 1-2 punch with Lohse (assuming Lohse doesn't regress, as I expect he will), but after that it looks like the Brewers rotation will be Peralta, Mike Fiers, and Marco Estrada with Chris Narveson on the periphery.  It's not exactly a championship rotation.  Here's the part where I interject that the Pirates' rotation is not awe-inspiring, either.  But the Pirates are on the upswing with a great farm on the rise (7th overall) while the Brewers are, at best, treading water this year.

The Brewers have already been hit with the injury bug this year.  Perennially injured Mat Gamel took care of his yearly injury in February and is out for the year with a torn ACL.  Corey Hart was going to move to 1B to cover for his loss, but Hart was already recovering from his own January knee surgery and is not expected back until mid-May.

There's also the cloud hanging over Ryan Braun with the Biogenesis scandal of selling PED' which Braun's name came up.  This is after Braun escaped a PED suspension last year on a flimsy chain of custody excuse.

To complete their topsy-turvy offseason, the Brewers decided to light a bunch of money on fire and give Carlos Gomez a 3 year/$24M contract.  Yes, Gomez did have a huge 2012 with a .260/.305/.463 triple slash line.  Gomez hit 19 home runs, after never hitting more than 8 in a season (don't mention PED's, don't mention connection with Braun) and provided good defense in CF, but he's not the kind of player to warrant $8M a year.

So in short, I expect the Brewers to crater out this year and finish below the re-building Cubs.  Just spitballin' some numbers here, but I'll go with:
Reds -- 93 wins
Cardinals -- 90 wins
Pirates -- 83 wins
Cubs -- 73 wins
Brewers -- 71 wins

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Zucchini Ricotta Boats and Avocado Parm Chicken

When DB~ and I have our food game clicking on all cylinders, it goes like this:
DB~ finds a recipe on Pinterest or the Internets
DB~ turns to me and says "Can you make this?"
I say "Sure.  I can make that."
Then I anxiously try to figure out how to make it

And so last week, she found a picture on Pinterest of these zucchinis topped with basil and tomato. I couldn't exactly remember if they were stuffed with ricotta, but I figured that would probably taste good.

So I cut a zucchini in half lengthwise, then scooped out the interior zucchini.  I diced that zucchini up and mixed it with some ricotta.  After that was blended, I added some garlic salt and rosemary to the bowl.  This mix was then re-stuffed into the green vessels and topped with chiffonaded basil and tomato slices.

I baked these for 20 minutes at 375 degrees.  DB~ is always complementary of my cooking, but I figure the first time she says it is because she wants me to keep cooking so that she doesn't have to.  (Kidding.  Kinda.).  But she legitimately liked these as she told me 2 times during dinner how good they were.  I'm sure I'll be trotting this recipe out on future dinner guests.

I paired the Zucchini Boats with another Pinterest picture she showed me of Avocado Parmesan Chicken.  There's not really anything super exotic here...I double breaded chicken breasts, first with an egg wash then a flour dredge (seasoned with sundried tomato seasoning), followed by egg and seasoned bread crumbs.

I baked this (first, before the zucchini) for 30 minutes.  After 30 minutes, I took it out and topped it with avocado slices and then parmesan cheese and baked it for 15 more minutes.  The avocados, near-literally, melted in our mouths when we ate them.

I'm not sure if these were the tastiest dishes I ever made, but they sure were the prettiest.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Crab Corn Bisque

A couple of weeks ago, I blew the dust off my 2nd favorite cookbook (Cajun Revelation) and made us some Crab Corn Bisque to go along with another recipe in the book called Shrimp Iomelli. Bisques are great during bone chilling weather, of which we have had quite a bit of this winter in Pittsburgh.  The bisque recipe is cut in half and should serve 4 people.

Crab Corn Bisque
Chopped 1/2 red pepper
Chopped 1/2 green pepper
Diced 1/2 white onion
Diced 3 ribs of celery
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 stick of butter
1-1/2 tbsp of flour
1 cup of heavy cream
1 cup of half and half cream
1-1/2 cans of yellow kernel corn
1/2 lb of crab meat

In a large saucepan, melt the butter and saute the garlic, onion, and peppers until the onions are translucent.  Add the flour to create a faux roux (wow, two words that end with "x" in a row!).  Drain off the 1-1/2 cans of corn and keep the corn liquid in reserve.

Add the corn liquid, heavy cream, and half and half to the saucepan and stir in with a whisk.  Once whisked together, add in half of the kernel corn and reduce the heat to medium-low.

Puree the remaining corn in a food processor (you may have to add a little water to avoid it becoming a paste) and then add that to the saucepan.  Add in the crabmeat and let simmer for 10-15 more minutes until it reaches a smooth and creamy consistency.

You can garnish with diced green onions or parsley if feeling fancy-like.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Marisqueira - Portugese in Aspinwall....naturally

Groupon can be fun.  It's good for getting you to go to a place that you may not otherwise try.  It's also great for getting a very good deal on a place you definitely wanted to try, but now have the extra impetus to go to.  In the case of Marisqueira, the latter was definitely true.

Marisqueira is owned by the son of the owner of Mallorca on the South Side, a Suanish restaurant. Portugal is the slender next door neighbor to Spain and shares many culinary styles and influences, so the offshoot restaurant seems like a natural extension.  When we went to Mallorca last year (in a pure coincidence, it was nearly 1 year to the day), we were left feeling underwhelmed.  It seemed dated in the decor and the food, although very generous in portion, was a little bland.

Neither of these things were an issue during this visit.  Marisqueira is in the old location of Mio, which was a high end restaurant.  We never went there, but I imagine it was as warm and inviting as the rustic oranges that were on these walls.  There was a separate bar area, with a 2nd dining area in the rear of the restaurant, but for the most part it was one single seating area that is long and narrow.

Our Groupon was for two people -- you got 1 appetizer to share from 5 choices, your choice of 3 different entrees (chicken, fish, meat), and choice between 3 different desserts for each of you (creme brulee, flan, mousse cake) for $42.  It was regularly $84, I believe, so a standard 2 for 1.

We selected the garlic shrimp as our appetizer.  A very generous portion came out on a shallow raised plate with plenty of garlic flavoring, oil, and paprika.  The shrimp were "gnarled" and by that I mean they were twisted back on themselves.  I'm not exactly sure how they did this, or if this was a certain type of shrimp that I'm not familiar with, but they were very tasty and filling for an appetizer.

DB~ went with the Chicken in Cherry Sauce as her entree.  Normally, I would steer clear of cherry-based sauces, for fear of either being cloyingly sweet (cherry pie) or too tart.  This suffered from neither of those things, as the sauce was perfectly balanced over top of a perfect portion of juicy and tender chicken.  Each dish was served with white rice topped with peas, plus a side of mixed vegetables (cauliflower, carrot chips, zucchini).  She clearly made the correct choice.

Not that my dish was no slouch, either.  I went with the Filet in a Red Wine Sauce.  The filet was perfectly cooked and the juice percolated through the meat matrix nicely.  It definitely reminded me of the sauce from Mallorca as I was eating it, but the overall seasoning balance was much better.

The dessert choices seemed as if they were contoured specifically for us: Creme Brulee is DB~'s favorite and chocolate mousse (in any form) is mine.  Here the mousse was in a chocolate cake in condensed form -- almost resembling a flourless chocolate cake.

The best word to describe the service at Marisqueira is "attentive".  We counted 4 people that waited on us through the course of the meal, in a restaurant that had a healthy crowd.  The person who I'll call our main server was a older man named Pancho.  He was brusque but professional.  Our favorite part was when a table would order sangria (we split a pitcher -- must get it if you go), he would bark at the bartender "Half a Pitcher!!! RED!"

There was a swarthy young man who was the water guy.  By the end of the night, I was trying to see if I could drink enough water to drain the glass before he came by to refill it.  Couldn't do it without blowing out a kidney.

The waitstaff was constantly checking in, which after going to plenty of places where I feel like an orphan, which was nice at times and annoying at others when we were in the middle of a conversation.

Marisqueira is a very nice place that is a touch expensive, but it is worth checking out -- especially if you can score a Groupon.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

The New Sim City

Apparently, a higher power (in this case, the developers at Maxis) is trying to get me to neglect my lovely wife.  At least that's the only way I can rationalize why I heard this week that a new version of Sim City is out for the PC.

I've written before about my love of Sim City 2000.  Back in 2000/2001, I would come home from designing pipes, roads, and sewers at my job to design pipes, roads, and sewers in my fictional city (cities) in Sim City 2000.  But now the progression of rendering, graphics, and interior game detail has increased exponentially judging by the screencaps from the new Sim City.

Back in 2000, the idea of people living in "arcologies" as they were known in the game was bizarre.  A self-contained tower that provided your energy, place to live, place to work, grew your food for you?  Sure thing!  Right after my hover car and female robot servant, Rosie, I'm sure.

But in construction right now is the Shanghai Tower that will have 550,000 square feet of living, working, and recreation space all in one tower.  It has its own subway stop and is a very green friendly building with efforts to reduce wind loads and heating/cooling demands.

Will our self-destructive tendencies as a society force us to live in these "sky towers" one day, due our continued interest in parasitically consuming every resource we can find and ruining every piece of nature that exists?  Will these be the only bastions of relief in a world that we will ruin?  Or are these simply the next progression of what a "city" will be known as?

I'm not sure of the answers to these semi-weighty questions right now.  But I what I do know is that more than likely I'll be ponying up $59 for the new Sim City.  I apologize in advance for neglecting you, DB~.  Or whatever your name is.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Pittsburgh Public Market Makes the Most of a Bad Situation

Today it was announced that the Pittsburgh Public Market, now in the far end of the Produce Terminal in the Strip, would be moving to an all new space on Penn Avenue this summer.  This move is in response to the wrong-headed decision by Buncher Development to tear down part of the Produce Terminal in order to build an office park along the riverfront.

The new location is at the 2400 block of Penn Avenue and is a much larger space with more reliable heating and cooling than the present location.  The Produce Terminal on Smallman Street was a little bit of an awkward location, as the vast majority of foot traffic occurs on Penn Avenue.  But with this move to the 2400 block, the new Public Market is 2 blocks away from the "end" of the shopping zone (Penn Avenue Fish Company and the Polish Deli).  Will the foot traffic walk 2 blocks past Bar Marco/Firehouse Farmers' Market to get to the Public Market?

The heart of the Strip on the weekends, from Wholey's to the 2200 block of Penn Avenue, gets quite congested.  By lengthening the zone, will this make the situation better or worse?  If the pedestrian traffic continues to thicken, the day may come where Penn Avenue should be considered to be pedestrian-only in the shopping zone on the weekend mornings/afternoons.

It will be interesting to see if Bill Peduto is elected Mayor of Pittsburgh in May (no Republican stands a chance in November historically).  Peduto is very food truck friendly and it would make sense for food trucks to congregate in the Strip on the weekends.  It would be very realistic to shut down Penn and set up the trucks right on the street, making the Strip even more of a destination.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Bluebird Kitchen

In December, I was downtown getting some Christmas gift cards for my brother-in-law who works downtown.  I wanted to get him a variety of different places to eat while working downtown.  I was walking into Market Square and passed by an interesting looking place called the Bluebird Kitchen.  I went in and found an upscale deli that I thought he would like, so I bought him a gift card.

Fast forward to yesterday and I was downtown to give a presentation.  Originally I was going to go to Christos, but that's on the opposite side of the Golden Triangle from where I needed to be -- with the snow and wind I didn't feel like walking a lot.  DB~ suggested I go to Bluebird Kitchen.

Glad I did.  When you're in Bluebird, you feel like you could be in Brooklyn as it caters/attracts the "hipster" clientele.  Lots of skinny jeans and thick dark-rimmed glasses.  And those are on the guys.

But it's so worth it.  I ordered a Roasted Turkey Sandwich.  It had avocado, shallot-bacon jam, lettuce, and a slice of gouda on multi-grain bread.  I also got a side of brown rice with eggplant, sundried tomatoes, and broccoli.  Finished it off with a bottle of Root Beer.

The star of the sandwich was the shallot-bacon jam.  Bacon flavoring (you don't even need the whole piece of bacon) gives a different note to any dish.  The smoky depth of the bacon, combined with the always underrated shallot, made the turkey explode with flavor.  The brown rice with chopped roasted vegetables was OK...probably wouldn't get it again.  I probably should have ordered some soup instead.  There were many other sandwich choices that I would love to try in subsequent trips.

I had some time to kill so I sat at the counter overlooking Forbes while I ate.  I came up with a fun game to play called "Will this person come in Bluebird Kitchen?" based on some profiling due to the magnet-like nature of hipsters to this place.

Girl with dark glasses and a tweed skirt?  80% chance -- came in

Two guys with gelled and slicked back hair like Gordon Gekko from Wall Street?  5% chance -- looked at menu and passed by

Guy with scruffy beard and big woman-styled glasses?  115% chance -- came in...and went to work behind the counter

So does that make me a hipster?  Hardly, as I was wearing a full suit.  And no thick dark rimmed glasses.  But I do like trying trendy new places, so maybe I should get some skinny red jeans, grow a pencil thin mustache and change my glasses.  Or I can just continue to make fun of them.