HOT CHERRY PEPPERS

This time of year you have to keep your car doors locked because if you don’t – there will be zucchini in the back seat when you return.  Tha’t not a problem for me since I’ll take as much fresh produce as people want to send my way.  This weekend my neighbor, Mrs. Trojanowski, brought me three huge bags of  kale from her sister’s garden.  I cooked it all up and put it in freezer bags to be combined with some beans for a cold winter’s dinner.  Last week Frank Caloiero, WQED’s Emmy winning Cinematographer and editor, brought me a whole bag of veggies including, red peppers, eggplant, jalepenos and cherry peppers.  I made a big batch of caponatina with most of it and strung up the remaining cherry peppers to dry next to my kitchen window.  I was going to pickle them but drying is so much less labor intensive.  I’ll have peppers all winter to add a splash of flavor to batches of steak pizzaiola, beans or sauces. 

Here’s my basic recipe for Caponata.  I eliminated the zucchini in this version and substituted more peppers.  It was scrumptious!  Thanks Frank.

Pasta Caponata

1 medium eggplant, peeled and diced

1 medium onion, diced

1 green pepper, diced

1 celery stalk, peeled and sliced

1 medium zucchini, diced

4 plum tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced

2 cloves of garlic

1/4 cup cracked green olives

1 tablespoon sugar

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

1 tablespoon capers

1 tsp red pepper flakes

1 tablespoon pignoli nuts

salt and pepper

 In a large bowl, toss the diced eggplant with about one-half the olive oil.  Pour into a large, non-stick skillet and sauté over medium-high heat until the eggplant starts to brown on all sides.  Add a little more oil if necessary and then the diced onion, pepper and celery.  Cook until the onion is tender.  Add the zucchini and cook for about 5 minutes.  Add the tomatoes and garlic and continue cooking for another 5-10 minutes.  Pit and chop the olives and add to the skillet along with the sugar, vinegar, capers and red pepper flakes, if desired.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

STUFFED GRAPE LEAVES

Serap Ozcan and her husband, Hasan Ozcan just came by for a visit to my office and left an enormous container of dolmas, stuffed grape leaves. Serap was one of the cooks for our Churchlady cooking II program and I’ve been enjoying events organized by the Turkish Cultural Center of Pittsburgh ever since. These are without a doubt the most delicious stuffed grape leaves I have ever eaten- and they are just beautiful!   I love their fresh lemony taste and the little kick of spice.  She was saying that better versions of this are distinguished by how thin a cylinder is created when you wrap the grap leaves around the rice mixture.  These are pencil thin and absolutely addictive.  My family will be lucky if any of them make it home.  If I can get a recipe from Serap I will post.  The Turkish community here in Pittsburgh works so hard to share their culture and to create an atmosphere of dialogue and understanding.  Bravo to Serap and Hasan and everyone at TCCP.  I can’t wait for their new cultural center to open.

ONE POTATO, TWO POTATO..

 It’s official!  The next QED COOKS marathon will be devoted to the humble spud.  We did a show called P IS POTATO back in 1998 but we thought it was time to revisit this quintessential comfort food.  So we want you to send us one or two of your favorite potato recipes.  It could be an appetizer, salad, casserole, side dish or even dessert.  It could be white, yellow, red, purple or sweet.  We want them all.  Scalloped potatoes, potato salads, sweet potato pies, candied yams, stuffed potatoes and au gratin.  I’m hoping one of you will send in a recipe for the famous Pittsburgh Potatoes!

Get the recipe(s) to me by November 1st and I’ll include it (them) in the cookbook.  Be sure to let me know if you’d like to be one of our on-air cooks.  Then tune in on Saturday, November 12 at 10am for our newest cooking marathon  ONE POTATO, TWO POTATO…

Just to get the ball rolling, here’s one of my favorite potato recipes:

BAKED MASHED POTATOES

INGREDIENTS:

6-7 large potatoes

1/2 pound mozzarella, cubed

3 tablespoons Grated Romano cheese

1/8 pound hard salami, minced

1 stick butter

1/2 cup milk

1/2 cup breadcrumbs

salt & pepper

DIRECTIONS:

Peel the potatoes and cut into 1 inch chunks.  Boil until tender and drain. Put the potatoes through a ricer and add 6 tablespoons of the butter and then the milk.  Stir and whip until the potatoes are smooth.  Then add the mozzarella, romano cheese and salami.  Stir to blend.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Use 1 tablespoon of the remaining butter to grease the bottom and sides of a high-sided casserole dish.  Coat the bottom and sides with the breadcrumbs.  Spoon the potato mixture into the dish and dot the top with butter.  Bake at 350 degrees until the top is golden brown.  Be careful – this dish is VERY hot when it comes out of the oven!

It’s Going to be a BIG NIGHT!

We are planning a re-creration of the “Big Night” dinner at the center of the classic Stanley Tucci film about two brothers who are struggling to achieve the American way of life in a small restaurant in New Jersey. 

What want to know is, what are your favorite dishes from that movie?  I want to make sure we include as many as possible in the show and in the dinner that we will offer afterwards.  Of course we’ll do the risotto and the timpano but what else?

RUSYN FOOD FESTIVAL

It’s time for the Rusyn Food Festival in Ambridge!  My favorites are the pirohy and ceregi but there’s lots more to sample including two different kinds of halushky.  And it’s not all women behind this Church Lady cooking – John Righetti (a frequent visitor to the WQED cooking programs) keeps it real and now his children are pitching in too.  The Festival runs Aug 4-5-6, 11am to 8 p.m. at St. John Orhtodox Parish Center, 5th St. Ambridge.

Authentic Carpatho-Rusyn food , like pirohy, dumpling halushky, noodle halushky, kobasy and kraut AND lesser known items like Rusyn style borscht, bean and mushroom soup, pagach,( known as Rusyn pizza) and all the Rusyn pastries –nut, poppy and apricot rolls, paska breads, multi-layered Rusyn tort, crepes (palachinky) donuts (cheregi) and lots more. Artisans will demonstrate Rusyn folkcrafts, Rusyn ethnic items for sale and the Slavjane Rusyn folk ensemble of McKees Rocks will perform 3 p.m. Sat..Free admission and air conditioned comfort.
Orders can be placed now at 412-749-0675 and during the festival for 30 minute pickup at 724-266-2610.
I’ll be there on Thursday.

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.

BLACK AND WHITE

Found this old Brooklyn favorite at Merante’s Groceria in Oakland.  What memories.  It’s not a cookie and it’s not a cupcake.  It’s something in between with spongy cake shaped like a flying saucer and a very sweet fondant frosting in pure white and dark chocolate.  This version was actually pretty good but it was made in Clifton, NJ.  Any one know of another local source?