Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Lemon Basil Ricotta Stuffed Shells

We have a really nice system worked out for dinner preparation between DB~ and I, as I've mentioned a few times.  She finds an interesting recipe online (primarily through Pinterest) and I make it.  Pretty simple.

Last week, DB~ found two really good ones and we tried them out.  The first was for Lemon Basil Ricotta Stuffed Shells.  The recipe is pretty much just as it sounds, so I could theoretically just end this post here, but I'll expound for you my loyal reader(s).

I salted a pot of water and brought it to a boil.  Once it was at a roil, I added 10 large shells to the water for 12 minutes.  They need to be big in order for them to be properly stuffed later on.

While that was going, I spooned out approximately 1/2 cup of low fat ricotta cheese into a bowl.  To that, I added some chopped basil.  I took 1/2 of a lemon and squeezed its juice into the bowl (watch out to not add seeds) and then zested the skin of that part of the lemon in for more flavor.

I stirred that together and that was that.  When the shells were cooked and drained, I stuffed each of them with a portion of the mixture and put them in a 8 x 8 baking dish into a 375 degree oven for 20 minutes.

DB~ isn't a huge red sauce girl, plus I think red sauce would smother the delicate taste of lemon.  I made a butter and parmesean sauce that I spooned over the shells when they were done baking.  I roasted some red pepper strips in the oven at the same time as the shells were baking, as well.

This was a relatively easy dish to make, especially as a mid-week dish, and one that will make our list of recipes that we keep hanging on the side of the fridge.

Sunday, April 20, 2014


Last Saturday, DB~ and I wanted to try someplace new for dinner.  Like yesterday, the Saturday of a week ago was full of sunshine.  DB~ made reservations at Tenpenny downtown at the intersection of, through no coincidence, Tenth and Penn.

Tenpenny is located directly across the street from the Westin and diagonal from the Convention Center, so I imagine at times it is packed in here.  In fact, we had to eat at 5:15 or else our other option was 9:15.

When we walked in to Tenpenny, we were greeted by a pleasant cross breeze.  As a result of being on a corner, Tenpenny put in two walls of floor to ceiling windows.  On this day, they were all open and allowing some circulation.  The interior of Tenpenny is striking, as it's fashioned with wooden beams and posts and a nouveau-rustic appearance.  Our server, a very affable guy named Barton, told us that the site was originally (many moons ago) a general store named Pickering's.  The way they had all the foodstuffs arranged throughout the dining room was to both simulate the general store and display some of the things they cook with.

Tenpenny also has a whole array of light bulbs hanging down from the ceiling.  At night, it's probably a very interesting look.  The whole place showed it was part of the new breed of restaurants where the interior design is just as vital as the food on the menu.

Tenpenny is the kind of place where you can come in for an appetizer and beer at the bar or have a full dinner in the dining area.  We kind of went with a hybrid of this concept.  We were told ahead of time to get the Mega Meatball.  It was...a giant meatball...but quite good.

DB~ went with two appetizers.  The first was the Truffled Mac 'n Cheese with three different types of cheeses (goat, cheddar, and gouda) melted over a twisty pasta.  It was good, but not the best ever (that might be the mac and cheese at Willow).

She also got an order of Crispy Brussel Sprouts, which is definitely large enough for 2 or 3 people to share.  The sprouts were the star of the evening.  They were cut up into small leaves, with their hard cores discarded, then flash-fried for a few seconds.  There was an excellent sauce drizzled over them made of a reduced Jack Daniels and balsamic glaze.  Some bacon and blue cheese were sprinkled over them as well.  If you don't like brussel sprouts normally, try these.  If you still don't like them, you can safely cross them off your list.

I played it safe, which made me disappointed in myself.  I went with a Braised Beef Cheek Ragout over papardelle pasta.  The dish itself was excellent, but too safe for me.

The part that quasi-annoyed us is that when we left at about 6:30 or so, there were plenty of tables seemingly available.  I know there is a function of how many servers are scheduled, too, but there were many tables in just the main seating areas that were sitting empty.  A minor complaint for an excellent dinner.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Gaby et Jules -- who knew there were this many Frenchies in Pittsburgh?

DB~ and I are devotees of Jean-Marc Chatelier's bakery in Millvale.  His macarons are divine, his cakes are works of art, and his pastries are impossible to pass up.  A few years back, a French bakery opened up in Lawrenceville named La Gourmandine.  We've never even been there because...why would we?

In the past few months, a new French bakery opened in Squirrel Hill called Gaby et Jules.  When DB~ and I were out in Squirrel Hill in the summer, they were just getting ready to open.  It looked sleek and non-bakery-y.  It kind of reminded us a little of the valhalla of bakeries that we went to in Paris, Laduree.  Or a little like Sucre in New Orleans that we also went to.  Man...when you put it all in one post, we really like going to bakeries.

We haven't been to Gaby et Jules yet, but my parents went on Monday and were raving about it.  They bought two desserts for DB~ and I to try.  I imagine that it greatly cut into my potential inheritance to buy them.  But man...just look at these.

The presentation is better than Jean-Marc, but I think the taste still resides in Millvale with Jean-Marc Chatelier.  The chocolate rose on the right had a peanut butter creme, which delighted DB~ to no end.  I'm not entirely sure what the one on the left was, but it had a slight taste of alcohol in the creme to it.  I'd like to go there and check it out for ourselves sometimes, maybe check out their macarons, too.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Bistro 9101

Have you ever been to a restaurant and then it closes...and then a new one comes in, it's pretty good, and then it closes?  Location, location, location always applies, but it seems like some spaces are just cursed.

That seems to be the reasoning for the restaurant at the intersection of Perry Highway (Route 19) and Cumberland.  It's a very well-traveled area, but it seems like restaurants can never stay open.  The previous incarnation was a great neighborhood place called Ziggy's that DB~ and I liked very much.  It had a beer cheese soup that was so good we wanted to take a bath in it.

But it closed (like Magoo's before it and some others I can't remember) and now in its place is Bistro 9101 -- referring to the street address on Perry Highway.  We stopped in last night to check this scene out for ourselves, as it's been open since early February.

The interior hasn't changed much, but we did like the simple paper tablecloths that were then hand-stamped with "Bistro 9101" twice by the busboys as each table was changed.  It seemed labor-intensive; you would think it would be easier to have a bunch pre-cut (they were cut by a giant paper cutter each time) and stamped and laying in a corner somewhere, but whatever.

DB~ went with a fish dish in observance of meatless Friday, so she chose two appetizers as her meal.  One was the French Onion Soup, as DB~ is like a moth to a flame with French Onion Soup.  It had gruyere cheese and mozzarella melted on top with a very dark brown broth.  She liked this quite a bit.

Her second choice was the Crab and Lobster Cake, which she did not like as well.  It was a little bit dry and almost burnt in some places.  The remoulade sauce was artfully drizzled over the Crab and Lobster Cake, though, so it was presented quite well.

I went full carnivore and selected the Pork Soprareillo.  It was small pork medallions with onions and red/green peppers with a light paprika-based sauce.  Underneath of it was a sundried tomato risotto cake.  Both of them were quite good.

I really hope Bistro 9101 can overcome some of the recent bad luck by failed restaurants.  It's OK for the North Hills to have a quasi-fine dining restaurant.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Gerrit Cole and The Potential, Never-Going-To-Happen Extension

With Starling Marte's recent extension, talk turned to who the Pirates could lock up next in an effort to cost control their core players.  Gerrit Cole is the next logical candidate, but since Cole's agent Scott Boras is a well-known proponent of getting his star players to free agency as quickly as possible, it's very unlikely.
If Cole were to sign his extension after the 2014 season, he would have 1 year and 111 days of service time accrued.  This should put him safely outside of the dreaded Super 2 threshold, meaning the Pirates would only have to go to arbitration with him three times instead of four.  After this year, the Pirates can pay Cole approximately the major league minimum ($500,000) for 2015 and 2016.  Then from 2017-2019, he would be arbitration-eligible.  So a potential 6 year deal would buy out all five years of remaining team control, plus one free agent year.
To re-iterate -- this is very unlikely to happen because of the presence of Scott Boras.  But let's continue along.
Using the Extension Tracker on MLB Trade Rumors, I filtered the results for starting pitcher extensions between 1 and 2 years of service time.  Since 2008, eleven pitchers have signed extensions with this level of service time.  Of those pitchers, though, only two are in the same neighborhood of Cole in terms of minor league pedigree (how much hype was given) and ceiling (top of rotation pitcher).  Those two pitchers are the aforementioned Julio Teheran (6 yr/$32.4M, with 1 option year) and Madison Bumgarner (5 yr/$35M, with 2 option years).  It should also be noted that both of these pitchers are clients of the Relativity Baseball agency.
Both Teheran and Bumgarner are low-end #1's or high-end #2 pitchers, in my opinion, while I think Cole could be a pure #1 ace.  Let's look at the year-by-year breakdown for each pitcher:
2014 -- $1M signing bonus, $800K salary
2015 -- $1M
2016 -- $3.3M
2017 -- $6.3M
2018 -- $8M
2019 -- $11M
2020 -- $12M option with a $1M buyout
2013 -- $1M signing bonus, $750K
2014 -- $3.75M
2015 -- $6.75M
2016 -- $9.75M
2017 -- $11.5M
2018 -- $12M club option with a $1.5M buyout
2019 -- $12M club option with same $1.5M buyout
If you compare both of them, the year-to-year salaries (at the same point in their service time cycles) are very similar.  Their "platform season" performance prior to getting their contracts are very similar, too.  In Julio Teheran's first full year in 2013, he put up a 3.20 ERA/3.69 FIP in 185 innings with a 8.24 K/9 and 2.18 BB/9.  In Madison Bumgarner's first full year in 2011, he put up a 2.77 ERA/3.05 FIP in 204 innings, with an 8.4 K/9 and 2.02 BB/9.  The 2014 season will be Cole's first full season.  In 2013, his 3.22 ERA/2.91 FIP, 7.67 K/9, 2.15 BB/9 rates all show that he is primed for a breakout full season.
Although I've mentioned twice now that an extension is not likely with Scott Boras, it's not unprecedented.  Since 2008, Boras has negotiated multi-year extensions for eight players.  However, of those eight players only seven bought out or had an option on any free agent years.  Prince Fielder merely cost-controlled two arbitration-eligible years.  It's also worth noting that only one those players, Carlos Gonzalez of the Rockies, signed a deal before he reached arbitration.  He had just over two years of service time when his deal was signed.  Additionally, only one of these players, Jered Weaver of the Angels, is a starting pitcher.
Even though an extension is highly unlikely, let's assume Scott Boras is in a generous mood with the Pirates.  He'll want Gerrit Cole's contract to be precedent-setting, so he'll want to exceed the Teheran/Bumgarner deals.  Here's a potential framework:
2015 -- $2M signing bonus with a $1M salary
2016 -- $2M salary
2017 -- $4.5M
2018 -- $7.5M
2019 -- $10.5M
2020 -- $13M
2021 -- $15M option with a $2M buyout
That totals up to a 6 year/$42.5M deal with an additional option year worth $15M potentially.  Except that it most likely won't happen because (all together now) Gerrit Cole has Scott Boras as an agent.