Friday, February 28, 2014

Food Collage Turns 3!

I can vividly remember that day three years ago I impulsively decided to start this food blog. I didn't know it at the time, but that was the fateful moment that would lead to some amazing experiences and an immense love and appreciation for my new hometown. I think my reflection post from the blog's first anniversary said it all. And in these three years, much like those early toddler years, I have experienced tremendous development in my skills as an amateur photographer and home cook.

Personally and professionally, this past year has been my busiest yet, with one consequence being significantly reduced time for blogging. But boy, do I miss it! It's funny, because blogging can seem like such a one-sided, solitary activity, yet the longer I go without blogging, the more isolated and disconnected I feel.

In addition to being insanely busy, I'd have to admit that my already limited free time has been made even more limited for another reason. Like a toddler, I am always curious. I love to explore, learn new things. I am never satisfied with complacency. Variety, as they say, is the spice of life. While I still enjoy food photography tremendously, I have at times felt that I have reached a plateau to some extent, and that further skill development would necessitate the kind of space, setup, and equipment for which I do not have the resources (or time!). For that reason, I have found myself devoting more of my time to other ways of satisfying my creative and artistic curiosity—like painting, landscape and nighttime photography, and video editing—none of which has much of anything to contribute to my food-centric blog.

This, of course, is not to say that the past year has been a dud—quite the contrary! I developed an awesome recipe for my perfect homemade pizza crust along with a number of successful experimentations with various pizza toppings. I continued to explore new ways of preparing venison. I took a Thai cooking class, fell in love with soup dumplings, tried Filipino and Nepalese cuisine for the first time, and have also been trying my hand at slow cooking, with results coming soon to a blog post near you. :) But perhaps the highlight of the year was a collaboration with nine other bloggers for the Perfect Pittsburgh Saturday series of posts where I described my love for "Stripping" for food. Last but certainly not least, I continue to make friends with and support local small businesses whenever I can. I also have a few very exciting food-related projects for the upcoming year that I can't wait to share on my blog!

So while it has been a slow year at Food Collage, I haven't stopped remembering that day three years ago when I started this blog and how much it has enriched me. Thank you for your continued support of my humble project.

It has become a tradition of sorts that I share a photo collage on each anniversary of my blog. This year, I thought it appropriate to combine my food photography with one of those new skills I've learned this past year, and the result is this photo slideshow featuring one photo from each blog post since last February 28. Enjoy.

Sunset Café (Greensburg)

A while back R. and I made an unplanned trip to Sunset Cafe in Greensburg. We had just spent the afternoon touring the spectacular Fallingwater and our dining options were limited on a Sunday evening, so we gave this place a try. It turned out to be quite a pleasant surprise! We munched on some fabulously crunchy, housebreaded Fried Zucchini, served with both a red sauce and an aioli sauce, while we waited for our main courses. I had also ordered a House Salad, which is actually much more interesting and your typical house salad, complete with beets and pasta, along with greens, romaine, tomatoes. I loved my Penne Melanzane, served with roasted eggplant, diced heirloom tomatoes, basil, parsley, sweet onion, pine nuts, and golden raisins. It was a bold choice for me as I haven't always been a fan of eggplant growing up, but I have learned to love it prepared Italian-style. R., whose standard is a chicken dish, enjoyed his Roasted Airline Chicken, served with herb au jus, grilled asparagus, and "salt-roasted twice-fried" fingerling potatoes. I'm still not quite sure what an "airline chicken" is, but R. gave it a two thumbs up! We were also extremely impressed with our amazing server/hostess, Sara, who was responsible for every table at the restaurant and yet never missed a beat. All in all, Sunset Cafe was an excellent find and one that I would revisit in a heartbeat.

Fried Zucchini at Sunset Cafe
Fried Zucchini

House Salad at Sunset Cafe
House Salad

Penne Melanzane at Sunset Cafe
Penne Melanzane

Restaurant info:
Sunset Cafe
302 S Urania Ave, Greensburg, PA 15601
(724) 834-9903

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Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Himalayas (Cranberry Township)

Pittsburgh's first Indian-Nepalese restaurant recently opened up in Cranberry Township. Having never had Nepalese food, I was naturally curious. R. and I visited Himalayas one evening and ordered a mix of Indian and Nepalese dishes to try. Among the Indian dishes were Butter Chicken and Chicken Curry, and both were pretty good. We also tried the Samosa Chat (samosas with chick peas, yogurt dressing, and chutney), which we had assumed would be like an enclosed pastry with filling, but it turns out we were just being culturally ignorant as Samosa Chat actually consists of broken pieces of samosa mixed with the other ingredients. Despite our surprise, it was fabulous.

Samosa Chat at Himalayas
Samosa Chat

Butter Chicken at Himlayas
Butter Chicken

Personally, I was here to try the Nepalese dishes, and that turned out to be quite the highlight. I especially loved the Chilli Momo. Momo is basically a type of dumpling that is native to Nepal, and Himalayas offers several varieties of it. The Chilli Momo is steamed and sautéed with bell peppers and onions and served with a tangy dipping sauce. Growing up eating out with my dad, he always judged the quality of dumplings based on the skin, which must be thick enough to maintain its integrity (so as to not break easily), but thin enough for the flavors of the filling to shine through. According to my dad's dumpling judging criteria, these momo would have received high marks. The dish as a whole was full of great flavors melded together well.

Chilli Momo at Himalayas
Chilli Momo

I liked the momo so much that I was back for a second visit for more momo. This time I had the steamed momo with chicken, which were a bit more subtle than the chilli momo flavor-wise but were also excellent. I also tried some Nepalase Aalu Dam (diced potatoes and tomatoes sautéed with red chilies and Nepalese spices, served with flattened rice known as "chewra") which was great as well.

Chicken Momo at Himalayas
Steamed Momo with Chicken

Nepalese Aalu Dam at Himalayas
Nepalese Aalu Dam

As Himalayas is still fairly new, there may be some tweaks to the menu, and I understand that a lunch buffet is now being offered. Also, check out the restaurant's website to see if there are any current specials or coupons.

Update 3/12/2014: I did a photo shoot for Himalayas soon after this post went online. Check it out here.

Restaurant info:
Himalayas Restaurant
20445 Route 19, Cranberry Township, PA 16066
(724) 779-4454
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Monday, February 17, 2014

Casa Manila (Toronto)

Just a quick photo roundup of my visit to Casa Manila in Toronto with my family. This was my first Filipino food experience and though for the most part the dishes were similar to other southeast Asian cuisine, I enjoyed it tremendously. I particularly liked the desserts, particularly the Halo Halo and the Buko Pandan, which were uniquely Filipino and absolutely delicious.

Mango Salad at Casa Manila (Toronto)
Mango Salad

Peanut Beef and Vegetable Stew at Casa Manila (Toronto)
Peanut Beef and Vegetable Stew

Garlic Chicken at Casa Manila (Toronto)
Garlic Chicken

Crispy Pork Belly at Casa Manila (Toronto)
Crispy Pork Belly

Coconut and Ginger Shrimp at Casa Manila
Coconut and Ginger Shrimp

Boneless Milk Fish at Casa Manila (Toronto)
Boneless Milk Fish

Halo Halo Espesyal at Casa Manila (Toronto)
Halo Halo EspesyalFruits and beans, custard with shaved ice, topped with ube ice cream 

Buko Pandan at Casa Manila (Toronto)
Buko Pandan
Young coconut meat mixed with pandan gelatin, cream 

Torta Trina at Casa Manila (Toronto)
Torta Trina
Cake topped with creamy egg custard

Restaurant info:
Casa Manila
879 York Mills Rd, Toronto, ON M3B1Y5
(416) 443-9654
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