Cool People

We've met some really cool and fun people we would like you to get to know, too!  Chefs, restaurateurs, mixologists, musicians, specialty store owners, bartenders, FLARE bartenders....there are so many interesting people out there in the food and drink business!  Look for interviews with our faves.  Soon.

Food with Friends in Annapolis - The BBQ Edition

The weather report in Annapolis last Saturday was gloomy. In fact, as we Food With Friends pals gathered at Donna's home on the banks of the Severn River, that's exactly what we encountered. Blustery, cold, overcast. And the lump charcoal and wood chips were lit, the clouds parted, the sun emerged, temperatures rose. Magically, the day transformed into Springtime! Who knew BBQ smoke has miraculous properties?

This time the theme of our quarterly get-together was BBQ. Our Georgia gentleman, Greg Blanton, pit master extraordinaire, manned the Webers and created heavenly flavors out of pork butt, chicken and salmon. 

As hours of tending slowly smoking proteins passed, many jokes were told, cocktails sipped, laughs shared and friendships forged more solidly while the aroma of smoking proteins rode the wind. Watching Greg work his magic was quite the treat, but nothing compared to the smoked delights that graced the dinner table. That man knows his way around a smoker! 

Greg (front and center!), Bonnie (supervising (?) in the background)

That beautiful weather? As the fire and smoke went out, so the sun slid behind darkening clouds. We were dry and toasty inside as the wind blew and rain pelted the deck and windows outside. Good timing, Greg!

Here's the line up of everyone's deliciously BBQ-appropos contributions to the day:


While the 'Cue was smoking happily away, appetizers were served to the hungry throng. 

Marti outdid herself warming up our tastebuds! Boursin-Stuffed Bacon-Wrapped Dates kissed with just a touch of smoked paprika - these marvels were sweet and salty perfection; Baked Bean Dip...what's a BBQ without baked beans? From scratch, homemade baked beans with her very own BBQ sauce, whirled into hummus-like consistency and served with corn chips absolutely stole the show; Manchego Rosemary Fricos - these were my go-to addiction on Saturday; Coffee-Rubbed Pork Tenderloin Squares adorned with a dynamite Chipotle Cherry Sauce. Oops! I almost forgot the Smoked Cheddar!  


Marti designed her appetizer selection around the cocktail created for the event which was created to pair with BBQ. (It's so good to conspire and work so well together!) What goes with BBQ, but bourbon?!

Bourbon HumZinger is the name I came up with for my cocktail. Buffalo Trace Bourbon, Canton Ginger Liqueur, orange blossom honey rosemary syrup, lemon, a splash of seltzer and a garnish of fresh rosemary served casually in a pint Mason jar nicely complemented the smoky BBQ flavors.

Why the cocktail name? The bourbon part for obvious reasons, the "Hum" part for the honey and the "Zinger" for the ginger.  Maybe for the tickle of the bubbles in those cool antique seltzer bottles, too? (Where do you get seltzer the way it used to be done? Pittsburgh Seltzer Works! More about them in another post.)


Bourbon HumZinger

  • 2 ounces bourbon, Buffalo Trace
  • 1 ounce Canton ginger liqueur
  • 1 ounce simple Sugar Syrup, Orange Blossom Honey Rosemary syrup, see recipe below
  • 1/2 lemon, juiced
  • soda water, splash
  • fresh rosemary sprig

Fill a tin 3/4 of the way with ice. Add bourbon, ginger liqueur, syrup and the juice of 1/2 a lemon. Cap, shake until the tin is frosted and strain into a Mason jar filled 3/4 of the way with ice. Top with a splash of soda.

Place the rosemary on the palm of your hand slap sharply with your other hand to release the fragrant oils. Garnish and enjoy!

In a pan, bring 1 cup honey and 1 cup water to a boil. Reduce heat, add 3-4 sprigs of fresh rosemary and stir. Remove from heat and let cool. Take out the rosemary and store the syrup in a covered container in the fridge.


While Greg did the smoking, both he and Donna provided the proteins that were the focus of the day.

Salmon with a sweet and spicy, red rub and smoked quickly to produce a moist and tender filet; chicken rubbed with yet another (secret mixture); pork butt with yet another rub, smoked for many hours to ensure a moist and tender butt that fell into shreds. (There was a fig BBQ sauce to slather or to dip the butt in, but there was no need for gussying it up at all. I DO wish I'd tried the sauce though...FIG? How did I forget to try that one).

Bonnie's Green Bean, Grape & Pecan Pasta (L), Greg's Smoked Chicken (R)

Greg's Smoked Salmon in the foreground (There was plenty more in the kitchen!)

In addition to the smoking, Greg also whipped up a huge batch of authentic Southern Brunswick stew and the most wonderful (authentic again) Shrimp n Grits I've ever experienced! (Yes, the recipe and pic of this one will be coming later!)

Side dishes 
Deviled eggs (yay Iris! delish!); Fruits Baked with Port and Southern Rice and Pea Salad by MariaKale and Tender Greens by Donna (our gracious and patient hostess); Spring Rolls by Brian; and Bonnie made a particularly amazing Grilled Blue Cheese and Bacon Potato Salad and also a Green Bean, Grape & Pecan Pasta Salad. Bonnie, I WANT the potato salad recipe! Please?


Grilled Blue Cheese and Bacon Potato Salad by Bonnie


Sweet temptations of all variety overloaded the sideboard Sherron devloped a smoky, sweet, good-for-you (sort of) Maple Bacon Granola to adorn Peach Cobbler with Sweet Biscuits to be made on-site and I brought a Bourbon Pecan Praline Sauce to further gild that lily. Peanut & Pretzeled Texas Sheetcake with vanilla ice cream (and more of that Bourbon Pecan Praline Sauce) was another planned dessert. 

We ended up not doing the Peach Cobbler as there were more desserts than could ever be consumed.  Maria brought Pumpkin Chiffon Pie, Coconut Cream Pie, Pecan Pie with Chocolate Chips & Kahluah and more than I can even remember. Thank you, Maria! Our sweet tooth(s?) were more than satisfied.

Far more dishes than mentioned above were brought by more members than were mentioned here...sorry for any omissions...I ran out of space! 

We don't have a date yet, but we do have a theme for our next shindig. It's a Baby Shower for Sherron! We're all thinking tiny things, little things...BABY things! We're "expecting" yet another wonderful Food With Friends!

Shakin' It Up to Stop Lung Cancer

There are some things in life that are worth every single moment and every bit of energy you put into them.   Kids are first to mind, of course, but I’m talking beyond the realm of family.  I’m looking outside to causes that make a positive impact in people's lives.  LUNGevity IS that worthwhile cause.  

Let me tell you just a little bit about this organization.  LUNGevity is the largest private funder of lung cancer research and offers the largest online support network for lung cancer patients.  It is dedicated to ending lung cancer NOW.  Because 1 in 14 Americans are diagnosed with lung cancer, each one of us knows or has known someone who has somehow been affected.  Lung cancer kills more Americans than breast, colorectal, prostate and pancreatic cancer combined.  LUNGevity works diligently across the country to put an end to this insidious disease.
What does this have to do with today's Dinner Plan-it post? Somehow I was fortunate enough to be connected with this organization to help kick off the very first LUNGevity mixology fundraiser here in Pittsburgh.  Along with Michael Green, respected Wine and Spirits consultant to Gourmet Magazine for 19 years, and Bill Toland, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporter for spirits, liquor, cocktails and bars, I was the remaining third of the trio of judges at a night of cocktail magic.  What an experience!  What a dynamic group of moving and shaking (no pun intended) people!  What a night of Shakin' It Up To STOP Lung Cancer!
In the kitchen and getting ready!

Groundwork had been laid long before I ever was pulled into the fold, but we built upon that framework and gathered some of the BEST mixologists in Pittsburgh to dazzle the lucky people who would eventually attend the event.  Shakin’ It Up To Stop Lung Cancer pitted mixologists in a head-to-head competition that incorporated Penn 1681 Vodka and healthy ingredients in a cocktail.  What a creative group of bartenders we have here in Pittsburgh!

Ingredients such as freshly crushed red grapes, fresh pumpkin, pineapple and apples, whole blueberries and blackberries and even ancho chiles were all in abundance.  Fresh herbs and spices, too, pumped up the cocktails…mint, sage, thyme, clove, cinnamon, basil...a virtual garden!  A rainbow of colors and flavors!

Kevin and Tara showing off Penn 1681 Vodka!

Each one of the bar chefs could describe to you just what the benefit of their healthy ingredients provided.  Kevin Saftner from James Street Gastropub and Speakeasy created a cocktail using freshly crushed red grapes and called it a Grape Sparkler.  Kevin explained that red grapes contain a substance called reversatrol that inhibits wrinkles and is beneficial to your heart!  Who knew?! 


Stevie P with a little cocktail magic!

Stevie P, from Liquid Flair Entertainment, used a juice extractor on fresh pumpkins to create from-scratch pumpkin syrup for his Bobbing for Pumpkins won the People's Choice Award! A cocktail with carotenoids that help neutralize free radicals in your body?  A cocktail with antioxidants that help prevent cataracts? One that has zinc and iron and fiber, too?  Thank you Stevie P!

Marie of Stir Society and Mike of Meat & Potatoes
Mike Mills, yes, THE Mike Mills from Meat & Potatoes(!), used acai, agave, damson plum liqueur and a special mixture of bitters in creating the Judges' Choice Award winning cocktail. Garnished with a single rose petal, I can attest it was as beautiful as it was intoxicatingly delicious!  
Judges Award: Never Been Kissed by Mike Mills, left   People's Choice Award: Bobbing For Pumpkins by Stevie P, center

Tara Shinn of Cioppino in the Strip District used fresh blueberries and thyme to create her delightful Blueberry Thyme; Marie Perriello, of The Stir Society, incorporated apples, cloves and citrus in her Manhattan Mule; Allie Contreras of Root 174 used apples, apple cider, freshly made sage syrup and citrus to come up with her Fall Slumber - there was even a bit of bacon bitters...mmmm; Glasgow in the Summer Time was Colin Anderson's (Bar Marco) contribution featuring fresh pineapple juice, blackberries and mint; and Dish Osteria's RaeLynn Harshman created her refreshing Turchino with a homemade fresh blueberry shrub garnished with a basil leaf.  
All 9 contenders

Allie Contreras pouring an Autumn Slumber

 For those not wanting to indulge, mocktail versions of the above cocktails were available as well as soft drinks.  A very special selection of craft beers and ales and wines were flowing, too.  And no evening of cocktails - healthy or not - should be undertaken without a sumptuous spread of appetizers.  Crabcakes, a wealth of sushi, tender meatballs, cheeses, meats, fresh fruits, Caprese salad, shrimp...I could go on and on just like the beautifully decorated tables that seemed to stretch forever.  
Just a peek of the appetizer selections.

Believe it or not, plans are already underway for next year's bigger and even better event that will coincide with Lung Cancer Awareness Month.  Mark your calendars NOW for Thursday, November 7th, 2013 at J Verno Studios on Jane Street in the Southside.  BE THERE!  I will!

Oh, wait!  You didn't think I'd leave you without a cocktail recipe, did you?  Of course I wouldn't!  Here is THE recipe from Colin Anderson of Bar Marco in the Strip District:

Glasgow in the Summer Time


Pineapple juice, blackberry shrub (Whole Foods in East Liberty carries shrubs in the beverage section), mint, Angostura bitters, seltzer (Colin used Pittsburgh Seltzer in those gorgeous bottles), Penn 1681 Vodka


Lightly muddle 6 mint leaves in 1/4 oz. of rich demerara syrup (or simple syrup).  Add 2 parts pineapple juice (1-1/2 oz), 2 parts vodka (or water or a mocktail), 1 part blackberry shrub (3/4 oz.) and 5 dashes of Angostura bitters.  

Shake vigorously for 10 seconds.  Strain, add ice, top with seltzer and garnish with a healthy mint stalk.    

Don't wait until next year to support the work of the LUNGevity Foundation.  Please donate today.  Here's the link...and thank you!

Stevie P looks on as Mike Mills gets a congratulatory hug from Beth Westbrook Starnes - the driving force behind Shakin' It Up To Stop Lung Cancer.

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