SUNDAY IN THE STRIP DISTRICT

While I wasn’t looking, Sunday has become another booming day down in the Strip district.  Most of the stores used to close their doors for a day of rest but that’s no longer the case.  I went down this past Sunday to take advantage of the lobster sale at Wholey’s (ya gotta love Robert Wholey standing out in front of the store with a microphone shaped like a lobster.  He calls it his “shell phone”) and the sidewalks and the stores were filled with shoppers.  Just a few doors down at the New Sam Bok Oriental Food they were serving up tasty skewers of marinated chicken, egg rolls and a delicious scallion pancake with mung beans.  It had a crunchy exterior and an almost creamy center.  I didn’t get the name of the chef but she was kind enough to pose for a picture and to cook one extra crispy for me.  It was delicious.  They have srirachi available if you’d like to spice it up.

She looks like a tri-athlete and cooks like Martin Yan.  And although the New Sam Bok serves food every day, she mentioned she is only there on Sundays.  Another great Pittsburgh character!

THE PAUSE THAT REFRESHES

When we were visiting my daughter, Maryann, in Rome last summer, I was completely captivated by the coffee culture in Italy.  In the morning people might linger over a big bowl of coffee into which they have poured hot milk and crumbled some day old bread.  On their way to work they might stand at a coffee bar for all of 10 seconds while they down a quick shot of espresso.  The afternoon might call for another shot while lingering at a cafe to chat or watch the world go by and then a cappucino for dessert after dinner with a little biscotti.  Different coffees for different times of the day in different kinds of cups.  The picture above is my afternoon pick-me-up.  Just a quick shot of pure coffee joy to get me through the afternoon.  The crema on top is what makes it perfect for me.  Thanks to Jura Capresso for the machine and LaPrima for the beans.

Field Trip to Penn Hills

I’ve been to Penn Hills many times but apparantly I haven’t seen the best parts – until today.  Thanks to Fred Vaccarelli for introducing me to Pasqualino’s Restaurant on Frankstown Road where the soups are better than home made and for guiding the way to Leonard Labrila’s store just a few hundred yards down the same road.  That store is AMAZING with one of the largest selections of DiCecco pasta I have ever seen and the greatest variety of canned tomatoes, olive oils and other Italian food specialties this side of the Strip District.  But the star of the show out there is Elvira Palumbo how hand makes the crispiest, and yet most tender pizzelles you’ve ever eaten.  They taste home made because they are!  She’s right there in the store with her little griddles turning them out two at a time.  But she is a machine!  She stopped long enough to give me a sample and a smile.  I don’t know which was sweeter.

BEAVER COUNTY MEDICAL SOCIETY

You all know how reluctant people are to cross bridges and go through tunnels.  Last night I went all the way to Beaver to spend the evening with the folks from the Beaver Counter Medical Society.  The draw?  Cheesecake.  Not the cloying, overly sweet and decadent kind from the restaurant of the same name.  These were actually made by Phyllis Loffreda-Mancinelli (of Ravioli Lady fame) from a recipe I got from my mother.  They are barely sweet with a hint of lemon flavor and a creamy texture.  Phyllis must have stayed up all night baking and cooling all these cakes.  And they all came out looking (and tasting) perfect.  We served them with fresh berries.

After dinner and the cooking demonstration, they started dance lessons and that was my cue to head back East to Regent Square.  My thanks to the Medical Society for inviting me to the dinner, to Phyllis for doing all the hard work and to her husband, Claudio, for his hospitality (and two great bottles of wine to try at home.)  Here’s the recipe in case you’d like to try this at home.

ITALIAN CHEESECAKE

6 eggs

6 tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon vanilla

2 pounds ricotta, drained

1 pound of cream cheese or mascarpone cheese

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 pint sour cream

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Grease and flour a 9″ springform pan.  Beat the eggs and sugar in a bowl until the sugar is dissolved.  Add the vanilla.  Beat in the cheeses and lemon juice until the mixture is smooth.   Fold in the sour cream and then pour into the prepared springform pan.  Bake for 1 hour and then turn the oven off and leave the cake in the oven for 3-5 hours.  Refrigerate for at least an hour before serving.

RUSYN FOOD FESTIVAL

They have been cooking for weeks over at St. John the Baptist Orthodox Greek Catholic church in Ambridge.  In preparation for the 17th Annual Rusyn Food Festival, John Righetti (one of our QED COOKS Church Lady Cooks) and his own army of church ladies have made 150,000 pirohy!  They’re also serving halushky, chicken, kulbassi and kraut, halubki (stuffed cabbage), pagach (Rusyn Pizza), three different soups and Rusyn summer salads.  In the bakery area they have nut, apricot and poppyseed rolls, palachinky, paska, Rusyn torte and cheregi (as seen on our cooking marathon).   The food is served cafeteria-style in the church’s air-conditioned parish center on Fifth street in Ambridge and there will also be demonstrations of traditional Carpatho-Rusyn folk art, music and dance.  As Righetti says, “This festival captures the total Rusyn cultural experience – the arts, music, dance, tastes, costumes – it’s like going to Europe, but easier and cheaper.”

I’ll be there on Thursday from 11am to 4pm.  Say hello if you see me there.

For more information about the schedule for entertainment, etc. you can call John Righetti directly at 724-822-6709.

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/

An Evening in Sicily

Last night, the most delicious and extravagant dinner in Pittsburgh was not served at a swanky restaurant on Mount Washington, it was presented in 11 fabulous courses at a pizza place in Beaver!  Phyllis Loffreda-Mancinelli, with the assistance of Patricia Colavincenzo, Lynn Clayton and Joanne Wright, assembled each dish from locally sourced suppliers for a special SLOW FOODS dinner.  We started with two kinds of caponata served on locally baked bread slices.  That was followed by a beautiful plate of cold seafood dressed with fresh herbs, olive oil and lemon.  Next came the tiniest and tenderest little neck clams swimming in a saffron tomato broth.  No one let a drop of that broth get away.  The antipasti were rounded out with a refreshing orange and sliced fennel salad in a balsamic vinaigrette.

For primo piatto we sampled two different pastas.  The first was linguine topped with a shaving of bottarga (cured tuna roe) that gave a more subtle and deeper seafood flavor than I had expected.  Kind of a seafood umami.  That was followed by thin strips of curly edged pasta called “lasagnetti” with a light cream sauce and crushed pistachio nuts.

Secundo Piatto included an unctuous red snapper that had been baked in a salt crust to contain all the flavor and moisture during baking.  It was not in the least bit salty but melted on the tongue.  The plate was beautiful with a drizzle of olive oil,  lemon slices, some long chive fronds and a sprinkling of red peppercorns.  That was followed by two perfectly marinated and grilled little lamb chops and some locally produced Sicilian sausage, grilled on a skewer with a fresh bay leaf on the end.  These were accompanied with braised swiss chard that was flavored in the traditional Sicilian agro dolce method and accented with pignoli nuts and the sweetest white raisins.

Dolci was a fabulous Cassata Siciliana with layers of liquer infused sponge cake, ricotta cream, chocolate and candied orange peels.  Beside it on the plate was a Semifreddo al Torrone, a frozen mousse dessert with hazelnuts and chocolate – my two favorite flavors in the world.

I don’t know if we can ever talk Phyllis into doing another of these fabulous dinners – once may have been enough for her! – but if it’s possible I’ll  be sure to let you know in advance.  It was an unforgettable and totally authentic dining experience that you could never duplicate in a restaurant.

I’ll try to post some pictures as soon as they are available.

FROM THE GARDEN

I’m putting the finishing touches on our show for Saturday FROM THE GARDEN. It starts at 10am and we’ll be making Zucchini Casserole, Creamy Tomato Basil Soup, Butternut Squash Ravioli, Asparagus with Garlic Aioli Sauce, Fresh Pesto, Gazpacho, Corn Fritter, Ratatouille, Rhubarb Oatmeal Crisp and Raspberry Balsamic Vinaigrette. Whew. See you there.

Summer Refreshers

When I signed up for Pittsburgh Seltzer delivery, all I could think about were Chocolate Egg Creams.  And they have been delicious.  But for the summer I’ve been looking for something a little bit lighter.  On a recent trip down to the Strip district I wandered into the Polish Deli on Penn Ave. between 22nd and 23rd streets.

Along with delicious prepared foods, smoked meats and sausages and pierogies, they have an amazing display of fruit syrups that are perfect for home made sodas.  Raspberry, Strawberry, blackberry, red current, wild cherry, and so many more.  The flavors are intense and so you only need about a teaspoonful for an 8 ounce glass of seltzer.  Talk about refreshing! Let me know if you use these syrups for anything else.  You can visit the site for the deli at http://www.sdpolishdeli.com/