Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

FIELD TRIP TO NEW MARKET DISTRICT STORE

Oh – my – goodness!  If they had a food category in Science Fiction, the new Market District store in Settler’s ridge would be the mother ship for all foodies.  I am not even going to try and describe this place to you because you must experience it for yourself.  Leave yourself plenty of time to explore all the amazing food areas and wear comfortable walking shoes.  I was there yesterday for the grand opening and prepared a few recipes in their brand new demonstration kitchen.

Chef Luke

Chef Luke

Chef Luke had everything ready for me including several batches of Stuffin Mufins and Roasted Artichoke Hearts so there would be plenty of samples.

A Young Chef in the making!

A Young Chef in the making!

Everyone loved the idea of baking your favorite stuffing in muffin tins.  It makes for lots of crusty surfaces and easy servings.  the artichoke hearts disappeared like potato chips and people loved the quick garlic aioli dipping sauce we made with one cup of mayonnaise, 2 cloves of crushed garlic and a tablespoon of dijon mustard.   Here are the recipes I did:

Roasted Artichoke Hearts

Ingredients:

2 lbs artichoke hearts (steamed or parboiled)

Juice of 1 lemon

2 eggs, beaten
1 cup flour
2 cups bread crumbs
1 TB grated romano cheese
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp salt
1 TB minced parsley
2 TB olive oil

Instructions

Drain the artichoke hearts (thaw 2 packages of frozen if fresh are not available). Sprinkle the hearts with the lemon juice and then dredge in the flour (I use a plastic bag to avoid the mess).

Taking a few at a time, dip the floured hearts in the beaten eggs and then coat with the bread crumbs which have been flavored with the salt, pepper, parsley and cheese.

Coat a backing tray with the oil and place the hearts on the tray, turning once to coat with oil.

Bake at 375°, turning once until brown and crunchy on all sides.

Stuffing  Muffins

1 pound bacon, chopped

4 tablespoons butter

2 onions , peeled

2 stalks of celery, peeled

1 large loaf of day old challah bread

1 cup chicken or turkey broth

1 teaspoon poultry seasoning

salt and pepper

Fry the bacon in a large sauté pan until just brown and crispy.  Remove with a slotted spoon and pour off the excess grease from the pan.  Coarsely chop the onions and celery and sauté in the pan with the butter until soft and translucent.  Add the poultry season and stir for a minute or two.  Return the bacon to the pan along with the cubed bread.  Moisten with the turkey or chicken broth and stir well to combine.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Allow to cool slightly while the bread absorbs the broth.  Butter the muffin tin.  Use an ice cream scoop or just form portions of the stuffing into 3 inch balls and place portions in each muffin cup.  Bake at 400 degrees until the tops and sides are light brown.  Can be made ahead and warmed just before serving.

Wild Meats

Wild Meats

Just to give you an idea of one of the amazing offerings – they have an entires section of a fresh meat case devoted to fresh game – elk, venison, marinated duck breasts ready for the grill, rabbits, buffalo, etc.  Who knows if there will be enough demand for these kinds of exotic provisions but hats off to Market district for making it available.

QED Cooks Alumni are everywhere and I spotted our cooking fire fighter, Kevin Jackson, of Chicken and dumpling fame behind the meatKevin Jacksoncounter.  He was sampling chicken sausages filled with broccoli and cheddar.  So, if you see Kevin’s smiling face at your local Market District store, be sure to say hello.

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.

TRIP TO ROME

After 20 years I finally made it back to Rome – this time to visit my daughter Maryann and her husband, Andrew.  He was just finishing up a year at the American Academy as a winner of the Rome Prize for architecture.  We got to stay at the Academy which sits atop the Gianicolo with a commanding view of St. Peter’s and pretty much all of Rome to the Appenine Mountains. 

Rooftop view of Rome

Rooftop view of Rome

 If you want to know about all the sights to see in Rome, get the Rick Steves book.  I just want to sing the praises of the food.  A few highlights:

The coffee: It’s everywhere.  There must be thousands of coffee bars in the city all serving perfect little cups of espresso topped with a foamy crema.  Each morning started with a dopio and either a freshly made scone or a cornetti (croissant) sometimes filled with pastry cream or chocolate.  Forget scrambled eggs and bacon in this town.  They love their sweet pastries and bitter coffee.

The market:  My favorite was the Campo deFiore

At the market in Campo deFiore

At the market in Campo deFiore

where you can buy everything from clothing to zucchini blossoms.  They seem to have an interesting, three-tiered pricing system.  The highest price (usually listed on a makeshift card) is for tourists who don’t speak Italian.  Slightly lower prices can be negotiated if you speak Italian.  And finally, the locals have the rock bottom prices.  Actually, it all looked reasonable to me given the quality and variety of the fruits and vegetables.  We also visited similar markets in Trastevere and Tastaccio.  They really love their zucchini.  Most markets had several varieties and bushels full of blossoms for stuffing and frying.

Street Food:  Of course there are pannini and pizza everywhere.  But we stumbled into a place called FORNO right on the Campo deFiore that had the freshest, most delicious versions of Roman pizza we had all week.  I walked around to the ovens and watched as one of the bakers stretched a piece of dough until it was six feet long and thin enough to read a paper through.  He slid it onto a huge peel and then directly into the ancient wood fired ovens that give a distinctive aroma and crispy finish to the final product.  Inside the crowded shop they also have arancini (Sicilian Rice Balls), and Suppli (Roman Rice Balls).  Next door they have another store devoted to sweets.  Don’t miss the Brute ma buono.  They have them all over the city but none better than here.

Restaurants:  The first night we went to a place on the Gianicolo called Scarpone’s. 

Eating Al Fresco at Scarpone

Eating Al Fresco at Scarpone

 There’s a big shoe out front to tell you this is the place.  You can sit outside under an arbor if the weather is nice and enjoy the fantastic array of antipasti and plenty of pasta choices.  The next night we went to a place called Orso 80.  Now here is the place for antipasti.  For 15 Euros they bring out a seemingly endless stream of dishes from fragrant proscuitti on ripe cantelope to meatballs in tomato sauce, fried peppers, celery and anise salad, potatoes and mushrooms, stuffed and fried zucchini blossoms, sauteed zucchini slices, eggplant, beans, and on and on.  Only go here if you are really hungry! 

Endless Antipasti

Endless Antipasti

You can check out their website at www.orso80.it

Two of our most memorable meals were at the Academy.  One night I cooked a meal of Chicken Cutlets (ala Romano, of course) and Pasta Cucozza using the small Roman zuchinni that have pronounce ridges.

Dinner on Roof of the American Academy

Dinner on Roof of the American Academy

  And then for the 4th of July we had a real America picnic under the Olive trees in the Academy garden with burgers, home made potato chips and watermelon for dessert.

Fourth of July picnic in the live grove.

Fourth of July picnic in the live grove.

If there is any interest, I’ll post recipes for some of the dishes from our Roman adventure.  Ciao!