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Buffalo Dining Cards dealing out savings on WNY restaurants

Ten dollars off dinner at a swanky place might not be enough to get you in the door. But if you're going out for dinner in Western New York - to Restorante Lombardo, Betty's, Sample, Sole, Encore, Shango Bistro, Blue Monk or 39 more of our nicer places - you might reach for your dining deck.

At $20 for the deck, you'd have to suddenly embrace monasticism to avoid recouping your investment.

Here's the skinny: There are 46 cards worth $10 off a bill of more than $25, not including alcohol, tax or tip. There are no blackout dates, said Buffalo Dining Cards creator Patrick Finan. You can't combine it with other discounts, use it on takeout, or use more than one card per party, he said, but that's all the fine print.

They're good through December 2011.

Finan, the creative design entrepreneur behind Block Club Magazine, said he got the idea from a deck from New York City. "There's a couple other cities around the country that have similar products," he said.

The deck itself was designed with the local economy in mind, Finan said. "Only locally owned places are in the deck," Finan said. They're on sale at Valu Home Center stores, other shops listed at, and through the website itself.

Instead of having the 20,000 decks printed in China, Finan went local. "It cost an extra 25 cents per deck to produce, or something, but we got it printed in Rochester," he said. "We tried to keep that money in the economy, as close to home as we could."

One dollar from each deck will go to the Women and Children's Hospital of Buffalo Foundation, he said.



Death Star, Gandalf, Obama, oh my: pumpkin carvers reinvent jack o'lantern

From, the ultimate Death Star carving. 

With the use of stencils, scalpels and copious free time, the art of pumpkin carving has exploded in recent years.

Just in time for Halloween, here's a roundup of galleries and links to instructions for a bevy of gourd-carving goodness.

Nerd alert! The Star Wars designs even include a Death Star illuminated internally. Then there's a dozen Darth Vaders, plus Princess Leia, R2D2, General Greivous and even Greedo the bounty hunter.

Awesome doesn't begin to cover it. All hail the Internet.


Tell us about your gluten-free WNY dining experience

Have you searched for a place that could offer meals for people avoiding gluten, the wheat protein?

I'm doing research for a story on how Western New York restaurants are responding to the needs of people who desire or require gluten-free meals. If you'd like to share, please send me a note that includes where you went, what you had, and how the restaurant handled the situation. Please include a phone number where I can reach you for follow-up questions.

I'm also interested in talking to people who have learned how to cook gluten-free diets in recent years. Even supermarkets and bakeries are catering to the gluten-free, so I'd like to hear about your best gluten-free shopping tips.

Please sent me your thoughts by Tues., Oct. 26.

Here's my email address:

Will other Buffalo food trucks follow Lloyd's lead?

Reporting today's story about how two guys from Kenmore started Lloyd, Buffalo's only taco truck, made me wonder if there's others like them in town.

The Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, where Lloyd parks during lunchtime Thursday, would like to see more trucks. (What are those poor people supposed to eat the other four days?) They're creating a place in the center of their 8,500 daily workers where such trucks would be lined up. Maybe that will get some cooks thinking about plans for spring.

Peter Cimino and Chris Dorsaneo, the Lloyd partners, said that getting their kitchen and truck inspected by the health department was not a big problem. Selling locations was the main hurdle. Cimino said he's seeing if he can help convince the city to adopt regulations permitting streetside sales. But for now, it's clear that no business plan that counts on street sales makes sense in Buffalo.

Besides the Medical Campus, Lloyd has permission from Buffalo Place, the downtown affairs organization, to sell at Main and Mohawk. Anyone who has walked along the rail tracks on Main Street downtown knows how much empty space there is there, devoid of street level commercial activity.

In August, Morgan Smith, Buffalo Place manager of public spaces, told Buffalo Business First that he "hopes the successful track record of new vendors such as Cimino and [beef on weck vendor Merl] Rabb will encourage others to bring new and different menu items to the pedestrian mall."

Buffalo Place, in conjunction with the City of Buffalo, issues street-vending permits for the bulk of downtown Buffalo.

Smith said he would like to see Buffalo offer the same culinary buffet of street vendors seen in other cities, such as Toronto and Portland, Ore.

“These new places can serve as encouragement to others,” [Smith] said. “We can now point to them and say here is some tangible proof that it can be done.”

Video: What's easier than pie? Apple tart built on puff pastry

If you have the time and the inclination to make a pie, then by all means go right ahead. Fumble-fingered beginning bakers and pie crust casualties might just make do with a puff pastry crust.

Here's the recipe.

Can this Buffalo restaurant be saved? Food Network show seeks subject

Celebrity chef Robert Irvine and a restaurant design team could be coming to a restaurant near you. As long as the place is thinking of closing.

Shooters, a Philadelphia-based television production company responsible for the Food Network's "Dinner: Impossible" and "Food Feuds," is scouting restaurants in Buffalo and other cities for its new show.

"Restaurant: Impossible" follows Irvine and the designers for 48 hours as they give a failing restaurant a makeover. Cameras capture the personalities and the changes through a Grand Reopening, then share the results with viewers.

The show just finished shooting at the Salt Works II in Wilmington, N.C. Today, Irvine wrote on his Facebook page: "Thanks to ALL the hard working cooks and servers who really dug deep to achieve great results. You should all be proud!"

Will Irvine pull off another turnaround in Buffalo? The production company is also looking in Syracuse, Albany and Scranton, among othe cities.

What does it take for a restaurant to get the show's attention? From the casting memo:

“The restaurant should be one that is at risk of closing and is in need of a boost in customers, good reviews and overall revenue.

“We are looking for restaurateurs who have poured their heart and souls into trying to make their establishment successful but nevertheless have fallen on dire times.

“The restaurant’s owners and management will be taking guidance from a celebrity chef and must be willing to overhaul their menu, decor and theme to put them back on the path to success!

“Being family run is definitely a plus. Restaurant owners must have strong, outgoing personalities.”

Interested parties should contact Shooters production assistant Justin Leonard by e-mail at to start the application process.

Ex-News Food Editor Janice Okun sets book signings

Veteran News Restaurant Reviewer Janice Okun will appear in area book stores in coming weeks to sign copies of her newly released memoir-cookbook, "Buffalo Cooks With Janice Okun."

It's a collection of more than 110 of the most beloved recipes published in the News during Okun's 40-year tenure as its food editor, served with a copious buffet of behind-the-scenes stories from Okun's career. Okun retired as food editor in March 2009, and still reviews restaurants weekly for the News' Gusto entertainment section on Fridays.

The 141-page volume, published by Western New York Wares, has a $14.95 cover price.

Scheduled signings:

Saturday, Oct. 16 from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. at Barnes & Noble, 4401 Transit Road, Clarence
Saturday, Nov. 13 from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. at Barnes & Noble, 1565 Niagara Falls Blvd., Amherst
Saturday, Nov. 20 from noon to 3 p.m. at Premier Gourmet, 3465 Delaware Ave., Kenmore

How to make eyes, maws, more for zombie cupcakes

Here's more detailed recipes from "Zombie Cupcakes," the Zilly Rosen cookbook featured in today's Taste section. Below, how to make "Half & Half," the preferred medium for cupcake toppings. Plus, how to make the toothed maws and bloodshot eyes for the "Bludgeon to Survive" cupcakes in the newspaper recipe.

Half & Half
Makes about 8 oz

4 oz store-bought white fondant
4 oz ready-to-use gum paste
Plain vegetable shortening (as needed)

1. Knead the fondant and then the gum paste separately on a counter until smooth, then combine and knead until well mixed. If the mixture becomes sticky, add a little shortening.

2. Cover with an upturned bowl or cup to prevent a crust from forming. To store, roll the mixture into a ball, double wrap in plastic wrap, and keep in a sealed container at room temperature for up to two weeks.

Rolling Out Half and Half for Cupcake Toppers

Acetate sheets (available from art and crafts or cake-decorating stores or suppliers)
Plain vegetable shortening, for sticking and greasing
Half & Half

1. Cut a strip of acetate to the size directed by the recipe. Put shortening under the strip to stick it to the counter and grease the strip liberally with more shortening.

2. Place the Half & Half on the acetate and roll out very thinly to a thickness of 1/8 inch or less. Using a craft knife, cut as directed in the recipe. Let dry, uncovered, overnight.

Coloring Fondant and Half and Half

Store-bought white fondant or Half & Half
Drops of paste food coloring (as directed by the recipe)
Plain vegetable shortening, for greasing

1. Place the fondant in a large bowl. Add as many drops of paste food coloring as directed by the recipe. When instructed to add a dab of coloring, use the end of a toothpick to pick up a very small amount of coloring, then mix it in the fondant or Half & Half.

2. Lightly grease the counter with a little shortening and knead the mixture until evenly colored. If necessary, add a little shortening to the frosting to prevent it from becoming sticky. Add more food coloring as needed until the color is the desired shade.

Eyes and maws for "Bludgeon to Survive"

1. Dust the counter with cornstarch. Roll black Half & Half into a ball and then roll out the ball very thinly. Use a craft knife to cut out 12 mouth shapes.

2. Roll white Half & Half into a ball and roll out very thinly. Use the piping tip again to cut out 24 small circles for eyes.

3. Use the red edible marker pen to add veins to the eyes. Fill a pastry bag or parchment paper cone fitted with a fine plain piping tip with the black Royal Icing and pipe an eyeball in the center of each eye.

4. Use a small amount of white Royal Icing to attach 2 eyes and a mouth to each cupcake. Use the black Royal Icing to pipe suture lines on one side of the face and to give the zombies mean eyebrows.


How to make edible crowbars, bats for zombie cupcakes

Bludgeon 36 

(Photos by Zillycakes)

The pumpkin cupcakes turned into zombie faces by Zilly Rosen and her crew at Zillycakes are meant to be served with a weapon. A bludgeon, to be precise.

Rosen said the ghoulish treats are meant to be bashed before they're eaten, which sounds like a lovely idea for 8-year-old boys if you've taken the precaution of first putting down a dropcloth. "Can’t you just imagine the melee?" said Rosen. "Hopefully you have a dog."

The bludgeons need to be made a day ahead so they can dry. They're crafted from "Half & Half," a blend of gum paste and fondant, which are both available at craft stores. The recipe is one part fondant to one part gum paste, if you couldn't tell from th name.

The Half & Half is colored with food dye that's kneaded into the Play-Doh-like sugar dough. Here's how to make the baseball bat and crowbar, with pictures, below the fold.

Continue reading "How to make edible crowbars, bats for zombie cupcakes" »

Stalking the McRib: Fast food fanatics come clean

I have repeatedly driven an hour out of my way for a restaurant that caught my fancy. Two hours, if I have a chance to get the lunch buffet at the Southeast Asian.

So I'm not sneering at the eaters profiled in the Wall Street Journal's article on the lengths to which people will go for a McDonald's McRib sandwich.

Naturally, there's a website to help co-cravers, where the fortunate can post news of finding their fast food grail.

Why the McRib, though? I crave a good spare rib something awful, but that isn't it. "The McRib actually has nothing to do with ribs," the Journal reports, with admirable directness. "It's a boneless pork patty molded into the shape of a rib slab and adorned with pickles, onions and barbecue sauce on a bun."

But it has nonetheless snared sad souls with its processed protein power.

Ryan Dixon of Burbank, Calif., once drove 10 hours to Medford, Ore., after hearing a McDonald's there was selling the sandwich.

"It has a ghostly quality," says Mr. Dixon, a 30-year-old graphic novelist. "You don't know when it will appear. It's the girl who you are in love with who has always been a tease to you."

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