Archive for June, 2011

THE BEST

For the past 10 years or so, my wife, Laura, and I have been spending a weekend each June at Niagara on the Lake.  Ostensibly, we are there for the Shaw festival but our true purpose is clear – the quest for the perfect butter tart.  I had never even heard of these little pie-lets of perfection until I wandered into the Niagara Home Bakery on Queen Street in NOTL.  As I scanned the assortment of cookies, shortbreads, scones, meat pies and tarts, I happened upon what looked to be miniature pecan pies.  “Oh, no,” said the young clerk, “those are butter tarts.”  Always ready to make the big sacrifices in the name of culinary research, I bought one and went outside to sit on a bench and let the crumbs fall where they may.  After just one dose, I was hooked – like the worst  junkie.  I had to have more.  At every bakery, farm stand and pastry shop in the Niagara region, I savored the many variations of this incredible treat.  Some had a sublime filling, rich with the taste of butter and caramel and nuts.  Others had perfected the flaky, rich tart crust that provided a perfect balance to the sweet filling.  After 10 years, I am ready to announce my findings.  The VERY BEST butter tart in all the region is found at the Whitty Farms Market at the intersection of 4th avenue and 7th street in St. Catherine, Ontario. (www.whittyfarms.ca)  As we drove up to the market

we could see a gentle puff of smoke rising from what looked like a garden shed.  The aroma was enought to bring me to my knees.  There may be a law about this kind of blatant manipulation but since the smells being broadcast for 1/2 mile in every direction meet the strict Canadian requirements for truth in advertising I guess they get away with it.  I peeked inside the shed and it was a marvel of efficiency.  Just a few feet of counter space, a stand mixer, big bins for ingredients, racks of sheet pans, endless tart pans and multi-level cooling racks.  Karen Whitty emerged from the shed with a sheet tray filled with fresh tarts.  She looked like a Miss Canada contestant and if baking was her talent, she was a sure winner.  She was generous enough to give me a few of her baking secrets and then she was back to work.  The market itself was a complete family affair.  Her husband, Doug, and some young boys  were arranging bundles of freshly cut asparagus and baskets of freshly picked strawberries and raspberries.  Behind the counter were some other young family members.  They offer two varieties of the butter tarts – with pecans and with raisins.  We went with the pecans (the young Mr. Whitty approved of our choice.)  The tarts are approximately 2 inches in diameter and about 1 1/2 inches high.  The crust is the perfect combination of tenderness and flakiness.  Somehow, it manages to be crispy inside and out.  The filling is so rich with butter and caramel that just a small amount is necessary to provide more than enough flavor for each bite.  We sat at the edge of the raspberry field and savored every bite.  It didn’t hurt that it was a glorious day with sunshine and a cool breeze.  But those magnificent tarts would have brightened even the darkest day.  If these are not the best butter tarts in the universe, I believe there are none better.  As Jean Shepherd used to say, these were worthy of a “Bronze Figgledydee with Oak Leaf Clusters.”  Now I wish I could convince Mrs. Whitty to do mail order – at least to Pittsburgh!

TASTE OF PITTSBURGH PASTA & MORE

What started out as a way of celebrating one of Pittsburgh’s favorite foods has become one of my favorite food events of the entire year.  It’s a worthy cause (Leukemia and Lymphoma Society), a friendly rivalry among some of Pittsburghs best chefs and restaurants, and a delicious way to sample the specialties of more than a dozen restaurants.  It all takes place on Steel City Plaza on June 23rd.  Be sure to drop by the Judge’s table and say hello.  We can compare notes on what you think were the most delicious offerings.

GRILL WINNER!

It’s Official!  In case you missed the end of our Grilling show last week, the winner of the Grill Contest is Elaina Lindner from Evans City. She prefers Gas and now she’s going to have a brand new Gas Grill to do her cooking on.  Thanks to all of you who participated in our little contest.  Elaina also submitted a recipe for our new cookbook, Aunt Gert’s Macaroni Salad.  If you want that recipe and more than 150 other great recipes for Picnics & Bar-B-Q, you can call member services at 412-622-1370.  Happy Grilling!

Nancy’s in Wilkinsburg

Since my son is off from school, we headed over to Nancy’s for a breakfast treat last week.  To our surprise and delight, the younger Nancy was back in the kitchen with a stylish close-cropped hairdo and her usual smiling face.  And she’s back to turning out the best home fries in the burgh!  If I haven’t said it before, Nancy’s restaurant is a community treasure.  There is so much more being served up than great food.  One small example:  While we were there I notices a mom in one of the booths with three small children.  When the waitress brought the food she just sat down with this family and started to cut the young peoples food and help them with butter, syrup, drinks, etc.  See if you can imagine that kind of personal care at a restaurant chain.  This kind of thing happens EVERY time I go into Nancy’s.  This place should be swamped with customers every day!  Go and give them a visit.  You won’t be sorry.