Here are a dozen places to visit in Downtown/Strip District, East End, South Side and South Hills for the best tacos in Pittsburgh.
CHOCOLATE CAKE WITH TRUFFLE EGGS
This recipe is rather involved but after seeing the photo, I had to make it for my older grandchildren. To make it easier, I made the truffles first (put them in the refrigerator), cut the chocolate for the nest and then made the cake. Be prepared to spend the better part of the day to make this cake. I used 2 8-by-2-inch pans instead of the 7-by-3-inch pans.
-- Arlene Burnett (firstname.lastname@example.org)
For the cake:
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, plus more for pans
1 cup unsalted butter
1 tablespoon instant espresso powder
3/4 cup water
2 cups granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract
2 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat 2 7-by 3-inch with cooking spray; line bottoms with parchment. Coat parchment with cooking spray, and dust with cocoa, tapping out excess.
Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add cocoa and espresso and the water; whisk until dissolved. Whisk in sugar until smooth. Remove from heat, and whisk in eggs, buttermilk, and vanilla. Add flour, baking soda, and salt; whisk until combined.
Divide batter between prepared pans. Bake until a cake tester comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Transfer pans to wire racks to cool 20 minutes. Turn out cakes onto racks to cool completely.
With a serrated knife, trim tops of cake layers to level. Place bottom layer, cut side up, on a wire rack set over a parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet. Spread with ½ cup ganache frosting. Place remaining layer, cut side down, on top. Spread remaining frosting over top and sides of cake to form a crumb coat. Pour ganache glaze over top and down sides of cake. Refrigerate until firm, about 15 minutes.
Using a chef's knife, scrape milk chocolate bar at a 90-degree angle, forming enough curls and shards to measure 11/2 cups. Transfer to a rimmed baking sheet; refrigerate until ready to use.
Transfer cake to platter. Top with nest of chocolate shavings, fill with truffle eggs.
-- "The Best of Martha Stewart Living: Cakes & Cupcakes" (May 2013)
Whipped Ganache Frosting
8 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 cup heavy cream
1/8 teaspoon coarse salt
Put chocolate into a large heatproof bowl. Bring cream just to a boil in a saucepan. Pour over chocolate; add salt. Let stand 10 minutes. Whisk until chocolate is melted, and mixture is smooth and shiny, scraping bottom of bowl with a flexible spatula.
Let cool to room temperature, stirring often, until thickened, 45 to 60 minutes.
With an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat until paler in color and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Use immediately.
Chocolate Ganache Glaze
8 ounces semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
3/4 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
Put chocolate into a large heatproof bowl. Bring cream and corn syrup just to a boil in a saucepan, stirring to combine. Pour over chocolate. Let stand 10 minutes. Whisk until smooth and shiny, scraping bottom of bowl with a flexible spatula.
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate (preferably 61-percent cacao), finely chopped
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons heavy cream
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperatures, cut into pieces
1½ to 3 pounds white chocolate
Sky blue gel-paste food coloring
Teal luster dust, optional
Put bittersweet chocolate and cream into a heatproof bowl set over (not in) a heatproof pan of simmering water. Stir until smooth; remove from heat. Stir in butter.
Pour ganache into a loaf pan. Cover with plastic wrap; refrigerate until very cold and set but still pliable, about 2 hours
Using a 11/4-inch ice cream scoop or a tablespoon, scoop balls of ganache, transfer them to baking sheets lined with parchment. Refrigerate 10 minutes.
Use your hands to roll each ball into an egg shape. Freeze 1 hour, or until very firm.
Meanwhile, melt 1½ pounds white chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over (not in) a pan of simmering water. Stir until smooth. Divide between 2 bowls. Tint white chocolate in one bowl to desired shade with the food coloring. Add a few drops of food coloring to second bowl; swirl lightly with a toothpick.
Working with one at a time, dip half of the eggs in blue chocolate then dip remaining eggs in swirled chocolate, letting excess chocolate drip back into bowl. As you work, transfer eggs to a baking sheet lined with parchment; refrigerate until set, about 1 hour. Truffles can be refrigerated in an airtight container up to 2 weeks. For sparkly truffles, brush with luster dust to coat.
JELLY DOUGHNUT CAKE
I found this recipe in Better Homes and Gardens Magazine and knew our younger grandchildren would love it. Unfortunately, there was a small problem: The cake is a Valentine's Day cake made in a heart-shaped pan, but that didn't stop a grandmother on a mission. I bought a Wilton bunny pan and followed the original recipe. I used large pink and black jelly beans for the eyes and nose and black licorice for the whiskers. To frost the cake I used a 12-ounce container of whipped fluffy white frosting. For the ears I dyed 2/3 cup of the frosting pink and finished the cake with the remaining frosting.
-- Arlene Burnett (email@example.com)
3½ cups all-purpose flour
2 packages active dry yeast
1 cup milk (I used whole)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
2/3 cup strawberry or cherry jelly
Cream filling (recipe follows)
In a medium bowl stir together 2 cups of the flour and yeast; set aside. In a medium saucepan cook milk, sugar, butter, and salt over medium heat just until warm (120 degrees). Add milk mixture to flour. Add eggs and vanilla; beat with an electric mixer on low speed 30 seconds, scraping sides of bowl. Increase speed to high; beat 3 minutes. Using a wooden spoon, stir in remaining flour. Cover surface plastic wrap; chill 2 hours to 24 hours.
Generously butter a 9-by-2 inch round cake pan. Using a buttered spatula transfer dough to prepared pan. Cover and let rise 1 hour or until double in size.
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until golden brown. Cool in pan on wire rack 5 minutes. Remove cake from pan; turn top side up. Cool completely.
Using a serrated knife, split cake in half horizontally; remove top. Place bottom layer on a serving plate, spread with jelly. Spoon cream filling over jelly; sped to edges. Place top layer on filling, cut side down. Dust cake with confectioners' sugar, decorate with jelly.
Makes 24 servings.
In a small saucepan stir together ½ cup milk and 2 tablespoons flour over medium heat until no lumps remain. Cook and stir 1 minute more. Stir in 1 teaspoon vanilla. Transfer to a small bowl cover surface with plastic wrap and cool. Meanwhile, in a mixing bowl beat ¼ cup softened butter and ¼ cup shortening with an electric mixer on high speed for 30 seconds. Add 1/2 cup granulated sugar and ¼ teaspoon salt; beat 1 to 2 minutes more. Add cooled milk mixture; beat until smooth.
-- Better Homes and Gardens magazine, 2014
FAVA BEAN SALAD
This is a killer-delicious spring salad, using fava beans, from "Buvette: The Pleasure of Good Food" by Jody Williams, who owns the New York City restaurant. "My guests at Buvette start asking for this salad as soon as the snow melts," she writes, and explains how you shell the fresh fava beans by removing them from their pods, dropping the beans into boiling water for a minute and then draining and cooling them to room temperature. "Carefully peel away and discard the tough, pale layer from the outside of each tender, bright-green bean."
-- Bob Batz Jr. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more as needed
2 cups freshly shelled fava beans (see note above)
1 fresh red chili, sliced, or pinch red chili flakes
1 garlic clove, finely minced or pureed on a Microplane grater
1 head escarole, cleaned and roughly chopped
Leaves from 3 sprigs fresh mint, roughly torn
Leaves from 4 sprigs fresh basil, roughly torn
1 lemon, plus more as needed
2 ounces pecorino Romano cheese, thinly shaved
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the fava beans, chili, garlic, and a large pinch of salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the favas have lost their raw bite and are bright green, about 5 minutes. Set the favas aside to cool.
Meanwhile, using your hands, mix the escarole, mint, and basil together in a large bowl. Once the favas are cool, add them to the escarole mixture and squeeze over the juice from the lemon. Gently combine all of the ingredients and add salt.
Season with more lemon and more olive oil, if needed. Scatter over the shaved pecorino Romano and serve immediately.
-- "Buvette: The Pleasure of Good food" by Jody Williams (Grand Central Life & Style; April 22, 2014; $30)
Pappardelle with Fresh Lemon and cream
There's plenty of acidity in this refreshing (and fast) pasta sauce from Italy's Abruzzo region, but it's nicely balanced with butter and cream. The original recipe calls for homemade maccheroni alla chitarra, a spaghetti-like pasta that is square in cross section. But I subbed parppadelle because, well, I love it. In a nod to spring, I also added some sliced asparagus and fresh mint.
-- Gretchen McKay (email@example.com)
3 tablespoons butter
Finely grated zest of 2 lemons (about 4 teaspoons)
1 cup dry white wine
Juice of 2 lemons, freshly squeezed (about 1/3 cup)
2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup heavy cream
1 pound homemade maccheroni all chitarra or other pasta
1 cup freshly grated pecorino or Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus more for passing
1/2 pound cooked fresh asparagus, cut into 1-inch pieces
Handful fresh mint leaves, torn into small pieces
Extra-virgin olive oil, for serving
Heat a large pot of well-salted water to the boil.
Drop butter into a big skillet, and set over medium heat. As the butter melts, scatter in the grated lemon zest; stir it around until sizzling. Pour in white wine and lemon juice, add salt, stir and bring liquids to a bubbling simmer. Cover the skillet and let cook for a couple of minutes.
Uncover pan, and slowly pour in the cream, whisking it steadily into the simmering wine and lemon juice. Cook, stirring occasionally, until liquids reduce to a saucy consistency you like, 2 or 3 minutes more.
After whisking in cream, cook the pasta, stirring occasionally, just until al dente.
With the lemon-and-cream sauce as a simmer, quickly lift out the pasta and drop it all into the skillet. Toss pasta until well coated, loosening the sauce with a few spoonfuls of hot pasta-cooking water if needed.
Turn off heat, sprinkle a cup of grated cheese over the pasta, and toss well. Add cooked asparagus and chopped mint, and toss again. Finish with a drizzle of olive oil, toss again, and heap the pasta into warm bowl. Serve immediately, with more cheese at the table.
Serves 6 as a first course or 4 as a main course.
-- Adapted from "Lidia Cooks from the Heart of Italy" by Lidia Matticchio Bastianich and Tanya Bastianich Manuali (Knopf, 2009)