Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Meatball Mania

I am officially declaring this the Year of the Meatball.  Just ask Daniel Mancini of “Mama Mancini’s Meatballs in sunday Sauce” or Johnny Meatballs from New Jersey.  They are gearing up to meat the demand (pun intended) of the public for those little round servings of meaty delight.  I predict whole cookbooks and television series devoted to this Italian staple of humble origins.  Of course, other nationalities have their own version of ground meat delicacies.  But my memory goes straight back to Brooklyn in the 1950’s and 1960’s when I would come home from 9 o’clock mass at St. Ephraim’s (the children’s mass).  the aroma of the sauce hit me as soon as I came in the door.  It was still two hours from completion but the meatballs were already bobbing in a still thin tomato sauce.  Gram would cut a fresh soft roll in half and spoon on a pulpetta with a little of the sauce.  You had to eat it over a dish with your elbows pointing out so the sauce would drip onto the plate.  then you mopped that up with the last of the roll.  Now that was good eats.  The pot of sauce in the picture is from this Sunday.  My son, Joseph, loves it when we make THE SUNDAY SAUCE and it always includes meatballs.  Passing fancy?  Maybe for the fickle American palate but I’ve been enjoying the same Sunday breakfast for 60 years.  “Don’t get that sauce on your white shirt!”  I won’t, Gram.

MUFFINS

When they asked me to read a story to the students out at the Chartiers Valley Primary School to celebrate READ ACROSS AMERICA WEEK I couldn’t resist selecting “If  You Give a Moose a Muffin.”  It’s a wonderfully silly story and the kids all seemed to enjoy it.  What a treat to see all their bright faces and attentive smiles.  It also made me realize that we can’t possibly pay teachers more than they are worth since the future is in their hands every day.  So, how about a muffin recipe?

MILLENNIUM MUFFINS

Ingredients:

2 cups oat bran

¼ cup brown sugar

2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp cinnamon

½ tsp salt

1 cup milk

1 egg

¼ cup molasses

2 TBS canola oil

1 grated apple

Directions:

The key to fluffy and tender muffins is to mix the dry and wet ingredients separately.  In this case blend the oat bran, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon and salt in a large bowl. In another bowl, beat the egg then add the milk, molasses and oil.  Slowly add the liquid to the dry ingredients, stirring gently with a fork just until everything is moist.  Peel the apple and grate it into the bowl then fold in gently.  Divide the mixture among 10 muffin cups that you have sprayed with non-stick spray or lined with paper cups.  Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.

EGGS

My son, Joseph, has discovered the joy of a simply fried egg in the morning.  He’s so proud of his ability to melt a little butter in the pan, crack in an egg, wait a minute and then gently flip over for a perfect result.

Then yesterday I got a call from a viewer who was having trouble turning out hard boiled eggs with perfect yellow yolks.  So I gave her the Jacques Pepin instructions:  Put the raw eggs in a pot of cold water.  Bring the water to a boil then cover and remove from the heat.  Set the time for exactly 15 minutes.  Then drain and rinse the eggs with cold water, giving them a little shake in the pan to create small crack that will facilitate peeling.  Gently peel the eggs under running water.  the whites will be firm but not rubbery and the yolks will be perfectly cooked and yellow without that ring of grey around the outside.  Try it!

Joi de vivre!

I hardly know where to begin.  We got back from our one week stay in Paris just one week ago and I’m already plotting a return trip as soon as possible.  The museums were amazing, the architecture extraordinary, the churches inspiring.  But the food – oh the food was heavenly.  And I’m not talking about eating out in fancy restaurants.  We actually only ate dinner out twice.   I’m talking about the everyday food that you can get at local boulangeries, pattisseries, charcouteries, poissoneries, bucheries and fruit stands.  Every morning we feasted on fresh croissants and baguettes slathered with sweet butter, berry confiture and Brillat Savarin (a luscious, creamy, sweet and salty cheese.)  My favorite lunches were just some of the rustic pate from the charcuterie, a bit of cheese, some grainy mustard and a baguette.

The markets were like art shows with the fruits and vegetables

carefully displayed to show contrasting colors and textures.

The variety of cheeses was, literally, endless.   The first photo shows a display at the farm market in Maubert Mutuality and the second one is a little cheese shop on the Ile de St. Louis.

Each little cheese was like a jewel with its own personality and the promise of rich and pungent rewards.  You could spend month here just sampling the different goat cheeses and getting a sense of their different characters.  I’m willing to take this on if there are no other volunteers!

We went to the Galleries Lafayette to look for a souvenir T-shirt for my son, Joseph.  We had lunch in the 6th floor cafeteria where you can choose from an endless salad bar to full course dinners.  I loved the wine dispenser in the middle of the food area.  You could fill a small carafe for around 2 Euros while the cold bottles of water were 3 or 4 Euros.  You have to love a country where the wine is less expensive than the water.  On the ground floor of the store is, without a doubt, the most extensive and extravagant specialty food store I have ever seen.  Meats, cheeses, sausages, pates, candies, cookies, breads, pastries of incredible artistry, seafood (you can buy the oysters to take home or they’ll open them up right there and serve them to you on a plate with fresh lemons),  crackers, jams and honey, spices, teas and coffees – it just goes on and on.  I could have spent the entire week in this one part of the store.  Just look at some of the pastries in one of the displays:

Yes, they take their pastries very seriously.  After I took these snapshots, the woman at the counter told me that photos are not permitted.  I guess some of the designs are proprietary.  I, for one, would never attempt to duplicate any of these gems any more than I’d try to make my own jewelry.

We’ve often talked about having a QED COOKS culinary trip to Brooklyn or even Italy.  But now I think Paris has got to be in the running! So much to see, so much to sample.  Vive la Paris.

CANADA GOLD

During this year’s trip to Niagara on the Lake we spent one whole day sampling just some of the culinary delights the region has to offer.

In the morning we came upon a pig roast set up in a farmer’s market at the nearby strip mall.  chef John arrived with his own customized truck and set up his efficient gas fired pig roaster.  It takes just under four hours to roast a 35 pound pig to crusty perfection.  When the roast is done, they lift the spit to an upper position and just carve the meat right onto the built in trays to keep it warm.  

From there we headed to the Upper Canada Cheese Company in Jordan.

They are making two kinds :  Comfort Cream soft ripened cheese and Canada gold, washed rind cheese.  The first is like a French Brie and the second is a really “stinky” cheese that has wonderfully complex flavors and pungent aromas.

And finally, we found our way back to Whitty Farms where they make the most delicious Butter Tarts in all of Canada.  And I keep asking myself, “Why don’t they make these in Pittsburgh?”  they have all the buttery sweet goodness of a pecan pie with a buttery crust that is more than half the pleasure of these tender treats.  Visit their website for information about what’s fresh from their fields.  But the butter tarts are ALWAYS fresh.  http://www.whittyfarms.ca/

By now, Buckwheat Master Al Smith already has the sour dough starter bubbling away in giant stainless containers.  Over the next few days it’ll ripen to sour perfection for the festival that starts on Friday, April 9th at 10 am.   From then until closing on Sunday afternoon, Al and his crew will make more than 10,000 buckwheat and regular pancakes to go along with the home fries, applesauce, whole hog sausage and sweet pickles that make up each festival dinner.  This is old fashioned country fun with friendly people, beautiful scenery and lots of other arts and crafts vendors.  And it’s all for a great cause – the Ohiopyle-Stewart Volunteer Fire Company and the Ohiopyle Community Center.  Bring your bikes for a ride on the fabulous trail and bring your appetite for some of the most authentic and delicious buckwheats you’ve ever eaten.  Look for me.  I’ll be the one eating sweetpickles with my cakes.

Mardi Gras

Weather permitting – I’ll be playing banjo with Dixie Doc and the Allstars on Tuesday night. First from 5-7 at the Hofbrau House on the South Side and then at Penn Brewery on the North Side. Stop by for some beer and brats with a dixieland beat. I haven’t been to the Hofbrau House before so I am anxious to try their food AND beer.

SNOWY PASTIME

Snow and ice everywhere!  Freezing temperatures and slippery roadways.  What’s a person to do?  That’s easy.  Stay inside and make up a batch of Cavatelli.  I had a little leftover fresh ricotta from Christmas Eve and just added that to two cups of flour, an egg, a dash of salt and a splash of olive oil.  A few quick turns in the food processor results in a silky smooth dough.  After it rests for an hour or so in the fridge, I cut it into pieces and roll the pieces into ropes about 1/4″ in diameter.  Cut the rope into1/4″ pieces and get out the box grater.  Now here’s the fun part.  Roll each nugget of dough along the inside of the cheese grater until it curls and takes on the bumps from the inside of the grater.

Rolled on the inside of the grater

Rolled on the inside of the grater

Bumps and crevices

Bumps and crevices

This shape provides plenty of surface area to any sauce you might put on it and even a secret for even more sauce to hide.  My son, Joseph, is crazy for these little belly bombs.  He likes to help me roll and cut the dough but he hasn’t quite got the curling technique.

I spread the cavatelli out on a lightly floured sheet of parchment in a jelly roll pan.  I put that in the freezer for an hour and then bag the individually frozen nuggets.  they go back into the freezer and you can take out just as many as you want.  Don’t defrost them before cooking.  Just drop them into boiling salted water like any other pasta.  When the start to float and the water comes back to a boil, lower the heat a little and let them cook until they are tender.  He likes them with a spicy tomato sauce but they are equally good with just a little butter, parsley and grated cheese.

cavatelli 002

Musical Treat

I know you are expecting entries about food and cooking and how to defrost a 42 pound turkey in less than an hour. But man does not live by bread alone. Yesterday I went to a concert at the Carnegie Library in Oakland to hear the Ortner-Roberts Duo. That’s Susanne Ortner on clarinet and Tom Roberts on piano. These two are simply amazing musicians and the combination of their talents and musical styles has created a totally engaging and unique musical experience. He’s a stride piano player with the chops to play Willy the Lion Smith, Jelly Roll Morton and Lucky Roberts (no relation).   She’s a Klezmer virtuoso with all the raucous slurs and runs that make that music so much fun. Together they slip in and out of rag time, klezmer, classical, New Orleans, tango, calypso and musette with reckless abandon and incredible artistry. I only mention this because they are local folks and as soon as the rest of the world catches on to how great they are, we’ll prebably never have a chance to see this duo again.   So check out their website

www.myspace.com/ortnerrobertsduo

and get on their mailing list so you can find out where they will be playing next. Amazing!

SAY CHEESE!

Penn Mac cheesesIt never fails. I walk up to the cheese counter at at Penn Mac and I’m paralyzed by the possibilities.  What do I feel like?  Is there something new?  Something creamy or tangy or sharp and pungent.  The fact is, I’ve rarely met a cheese I didn’t like from the most mundane cheddar to the most sophisticated washed rinds.

Dear Heart cutting me a piece of Locatelli

Dear Heart cutting me a piece of Locatelli

And then my troubles disappear as Carole Pascuzzi says, “Hello, Dear Heart.  What can I get you today?”  And even with hundreds of cheeses behind her and in the case in front of her, she is always excited about some new find.  Raw Milk cheeseShe brought out some beautiful raw milk cheese that had a split personality.  Cold, it crumbled like feta cheese and would be great sprinkled on a salad.  But when it warmed, it smoothed out and mellowed.  And then she took out two young pecorinos that were flavored.  these are fabulous shaved on pasta or salads but are equally good with fruit and bread and a nice glass of wine.Young pecorinos

For something new, I tried a piece of semi-soft cheese called Trugole.  It is a lush Italian cow’s milk cheese from the mountainous region of Asiago.  It is a perfect snacking cheese but it also has great melting properties.  Dear Heart, I’ll be back for more!