Archive for October, 2009

SOUTH FAYETTE CHILI COOKOFF

It was a perfect day for chili this year at the South Fayette Chili cookoff.  I needed something spicy to keep me warm!  The sun only broke through the clouds for a few minutes the whole day and the large and enthusiastic crown of chili lovers shivered from one booth to the next.  There were over 20 different kinds of chili represented in restaurant, business, non-profit and individual categories.  Part of the fun is how the chili and cooking teams are named.  Rick Hanzlik and the the Amigos served up “Blazing Saddles” and “Chicken Dance” chili.  the folks from Bethany Presbyterian also had two entries – “Fire” and “Brimstone.”  Very funny.  There was everything from chicken and vegetarian, pork and beef to elk!  But with all that, there were only one or two that had the pepper power to raise a sweat.  I guess they were producing for the masses.  It was all for the good cause of the Bridgeville Rotary and the work they do in the community.  This is one of those home grown, community events, that make living in Pittsburgh so wonderful.  It’s a piece of Americana that I am happy to support whenever I can.  Here are some pictures I took of the various chili teams.  Cactus StingThree Amigos TeamLaBella Bean was All Fired UpChili KnightsSteve Lash was cookin' with JackBean Team

It made me want to go home and make chili.  I think I’ll head down to Reyna’s in the Strip to get some of those beautiful dried peppers. they keep them in bright little galvanized pails in the back of the store.  I put them in the pot and let them soften with time.  Then I take them out and process them with a little of the chili liquid until they form a paste.  That goes back in the chili for a deep rich pepper flavor.  It also gives a nice creamy texture to the sauce.  It beasts the heck out of chili powder, which is just a mixture of powdered chilis, oregano, cumin and garlic.  Some of it has been in the jar so long that it makes for a flat tasting chili.  If you’re going to go through all that time and trouble, you want a batch you can be proud of.  Hot stuff!

Food Festival at St. Malachy

It was a hectic but fun night behind the counter at the French booth.  French Booth Crew 2009Jared Kehl is old enough this year to be a big help to his mom, Melissa.  I was there on Friday night and the place was packed from 5 o’clock to 9 o’clock.  Jared was disappointed because he thought there might be some slack time when he could show me his latest card tricks.  He’s becoming quite a prestidigitator.  I think we went through 15 gallons of ice cream while I was there and that’s a lot of crepes.  You could have your choice of toppings from butter rum with sliced bananas, strawberries or hot blueberry; all topped off with whipped cream and chocolate syrup.  Each serving probably topped out at 30,000 calories but no one was counting.  And then there were the three different types of quiche, French onion soup, chocolate mousse, cheese cake and ice cream.  I barely had a chance to make my way around to the other booths just to see what they were serving.  The Italian boothGnocchi was featuring home made gnocchi – FABULOUS.  There are the pierogi ladiesTender Pierogi who ladle tender polish dumplings into containers along with sauteed onions and butter.  Talk about service with a smile!Pierogi Ladies

Can’t forget the Slovenian Booth, the Mexican Booth  and then the ever popular German booth where they are serving up tons of slow cooked pork with potato pancakesPotato Pancakes- and these are not pre-made days in advance.  They are cooking the pancakes right there! On my way out the door I always have to stop for a few dozen of the “heavenly” doughnuts.  Again, these are being made right at the moment and are sometimes put in a bag while they are still too hot to eat.  I think of myself as something of a doughnut connoisseur and these are at the very top of my list of all time greatest doughnuts.  I love them just plain but they also have them with sugar, cinnamon sugar, powdered sugar, chocolate and even pumpkin!  And the great thing is that you don’t have to feel guilty about indulging because all the proceeds go to a good cause.

Thanks to Melissa Kehl and all the folks at St. Malachy’s who make me feel so welcome every year.  I wouldn’t miss it.

Buckwheat follow-up

I had a terrific time at the Buckwheat Festival last week in Ohiopyle. Al Smith hasn’t lost his touch with those buckwheat cakes. They are light as a feather and just as tangy as a day in the fall.  Happy dinersDale Leonard was stationed in the fire hall with a small army of sausage grillers. Everyone I talked to thought the sausage this year was the best ever.  It had just the right amount of spice.  They were also making apple cider right out in front of the firehouse from locally grown apples.  It doesn’t get any fresher or tastier than that.

It was a gorgeous day to be out in the countryOhiopyle in October and we enjoyed the brisk air and changing colors. The river was running very high and fast. Now I can’t wait until spring when they have the next festival. I’ll post the date as soon as possible so you can make plans to be there.

THE OLD NEIGHBORHOOD

Early in September I made a pilgrimage back to my old neighborhood in Brooklyn to see if it was still such a delicious place to live.  I grew up on 10th Avenue in what we called the Bay Ridge area of Brooklyn.  But we were actually nestled in the center of several neighborhoods including Bensonhurst and Dyker Heights.  One block away on 11th Avenue was our local Italian shopping area with individual stores for fruits and vegetables, fish, cheese, pasta, pork and bread.  The only things we purchased at the “supermarket” were cleaning supplies, cereal and ice cream. brooklyn visit 001Well, things have changed – but not that much.  One of the most amazing specialty stores, Faicco’s, is still there with the most amazing assortment of pork products I have ever seen.

Perfect Pork at Faicco

Perfect Pork at Faicco

All the chops, cutlets, sausages and roasts are laid out in perfect rows in the brightly lit cases.  The small army of butchers in their immaculate white lab coats dodge each other with grace and dexterity as they maneuver behind the counter to fill and wrap every purchase.  They sort of anticipate your pickiness and are more than up to the challenge.  Do you want paper slices between each cutlet?  Do you want it double wrapped for the freezer.  Do you want each item individually wrapped?  No problem.  Take a number and wait patiently as each person gathers the basic ingredients for their Sunday Sauce (or gravy).

Making mozzarella

Making mozzarella

In a surgically clean room next door, they are at work trimming the pork for sausages, stuffing casings, making fresh mozzarella in huge vats, cutting roasts and making up display trays. On the counter above the cases are several pre-cooked specialties like arancini (rice balls) pizza rustica, prosciutto bread and sausage rolls.  Next to that are vats of cured olives, mushrooms and vegetables.  And finally, the deli selection with several varieties of prosciutto to be carefully shaved and a wide array of other deli meats. It really brought me back to my childhood to be in this store once again and I am ever so grateful that very little has changed since those days.  These people are dedicated to a culinary tradition and to a level of quality and service that we have all but lost in the move to mass market merchandising.

My favorite is the cheese and parsley spiral.

My favorite is the cheese and parsley spiral.

It is a pleasure and a relief to witness its survival into the 21st century.

Ribs and more ribs.

Ribs and more ribs.

The most amazing sausages

All kinds of sausage

Across the street, on the site of the old Marchese Bakery is an amazing establishment called Sorrentino’s.  they still have the 100 year old wood fired oven in the back where they turn out crusty artisan breads and pizzas.

Scaling dough

Scaling dough

But in the front they  have a kind of cafeteria display of a dozen Italian specialties from roasted chicken flavored with lemon and oregano to eggplant parmigiano, stuffed artichokes, stuffed mushrooms, veal cutlet romano, and on and on. I went on Saturday and just had a double espresso and a couple of Biscotti di Regina, the little cookies covered with toasted sesame seeds.  Then I went back on Sunday for a few loaves of semolina bread, still warm from the oven (at $1 per loaf!)  Next time I’m going to make sure I am there for lunch or dinner.  this is a family owned and operated business and you are just as likely to be served by the owner as one of the other workers.  They’ve created a small empire right there on 11th Ave. which includes this eatery, and adjacent catering hall and a fish store across the street. My sister Patty from Maryland was with me and we made impromptu plans to meet up with our younger brother, Joseph who was

Spumoni Gardens

Spumoni Gardens

on his way from his home in highland, NY, to Long Island with his wife Laura to visit her mother.  By the time we got to the Spumoni Gardens they were already there and waiting for us.

Dishing out the rainbow.

Dishing out the rainbow.

And this place really hasn’t changed in more than 50 years.  We would come up here after a visit to my aunt Mamie who lived just around the corner.  The  spumoni is served in the same accordion paper cup that you squeeze and suck on to extract the last bits of flavor.  The kid behind the counter has the same Brooklyn attitude that I remember from childhood.  If you just order a large or small, what you get is a combination of vanilla, chocolate and rainbow.  If you want a cup of just one of those flavors you have to ask for it.  Everything is painted red, white and green and there are picnic tables

Al Fresco

Al Fresco

where you can sit out and enjoy your spumoni or a slice of their pizza (thick square cut or thin pie cut).  they also have a sit down restaurant where you can get all kinds of pasta, calamari, mussels, eggplant and so on.  But the spumoni, a kind of intensely flavored cross between Italian ice and gelato, is the real reason to come here.  this business started out many years ago as a single push cart that grew into the American dream.  It’s a good story and it’s great spumoni.  To my delight and relief, the product is exactly as it was when I was a child.  And I would remember.  There are times when memories exceed reality but not here.  Thank you Spumoni Gardens!

The Bill of Fare

The Bill of Fare

Ok, one more stop.  This time we went into a store on New Utrecht Avenue called Pastosa.  This was the only store bought fresh pasta that was ever allowed in my Grandmother’s kitchen.  It was so delicious that she proclaimed it “home made” even though we bought it at a store.  The store is still the same cramped little corner but they seem to have expanded the range of things you can get there.  Here are some pictures to give you an idea of the variety.

Breaded and Fried

Breaded and Fried

Salads galore

Salads galore

A neighborhood institution

A neighborhood institution

Fresh mozzarella

Fresh mozzarella

All I can say is that it really took me back to my youth to be in these old stores and to see and taste that everything is still as good as I remember them.  I only wish I had been able to stay longer and sample more.  I’ve been thinking about organizing a bus trip back to the old neighborhood.  If you think you’d be interested, just add a comment to this post.  As plans come together I’ll let you know what we’re thinking of.

CHOCOLATE

chocolate
It’s official — our next cooking marathon will be devoted to CHOCOLATE! And you heard it here first. Now I need everyone to send in their favorite recipes that use chocolate. Let’s see, chocolate cake, mousse, souffle, chocolate covered pretzels, pots de creme, plain old chocolate pudding, chocolate chiffon pie, chocolate mole sauce for Mexican food, chocolate candies, parfaits, chocolate ice creams, gobs, chocolate cookies of every kind. You get the idea. If there’s chocolate or cocoa in the recipe or on the recipe, it qualifies to be included in our next cookbook. The show will be live on Saturday morning, November 21. I’ll be going through the recipes to select a few to be demonstrated on the program. So if you ever wanted to cook on television, now’s your chance.
Get your recipes to me by November 10th and we’ll include them in the book. Get them to me earlier if you want to be considered as an on-air cook. Mmmm, chocolate and nuts, chocolate and cherries, chocolate and coconut, so many great flavor combinations. You can email the recipes to me at recipes@wqed.org or send them by mail to

CHOCOLATE
WQED
4802 Fifth Ave.
Pittsburgh, PA 15213