Pittsburgh's Best Resource for Food Adventures
Archive for September 2010
Sep 29 2010
Last night I gathered myself together (I’m not an evening person, but more of an early afternoon girl) and drove down to Habitat, the sleek and stylish restaurant in the Pittsburgh Fairmont Hotel. The occasion was a tasting dinner highlighting recipes from New York Times food writer and TV celebrity cook Mark Bittman‘s new book, The Food Matters Cookbook: 500 Revolutionary Recipes for Better Living (Simon & Schuster, 2010.) Oh yeah, and Mr Bittman was in attendance, too. Pretty cool. Turns out he is an old friend of Habitat’s executive chef, Andrew Morrison. I don’t have photos from the evening, because no one else seemed to be taking pictures and I didn’t want to single myself as the only loser with camera in hand. So what you get is a photo of the menu and of the signed book that each guest received. Eight courses (with wine pairings for the first seven and a sparkling sake to go along with the ice cream topped crunchy pear crisp.) Mr Bittman made his rounds to each table and casually chatted with the guests. I’m always in awe of people who can produce book after book ( and in his case, award winning books, too) because it takes a real effort on my part to even type 300 words two or three times per week for this blog. The food was perfect for a fall evening and my dining companions ( my friend Sherris and two new acquaintances, steel expert Dr. Tony DeArdo and lovely wife Marge) made the night so enjoyable.
My top food votes for the night went to the Two Pea Soup with Frizzled Ham and Organic Mint and the Whole Wheat and Carrot Gnocchi with Sage Butter and Dry Aged Ricotta. The warm pea soup was a mix of dried split peas and regular English peas. Warm, sweet and soothing for someone like me who was up past their usual 9:00 weeknight bedtime. And the gnocchi . . . well, sometimes whole wheat gnocchi resemble little lead weights, but these were fluffy and light and they sat in a swirl of sage scented brown butter. Special food events like this one are common in other big cities and it’s great to see them happening here, too. Great job with this dinner, Habitat! More, please.
Sep 24 2010
Ever since I was a kid, I have always loved gobs. You might call them whoopie pies, but they’re the same thing. A giant soft cookie sandwich filled with soft, sweet, whipped filling. They were special occasion cookies in my house and were always part of the cookie tray at Christmas. They still are something I look forward to every December. My favorite kind of gob is made from a chocolate cake-like batter with a creamy filling made from . . sorry, all of my dietitian co-workers out there . . . Crisco . . . and some sugar, vanilla and canned evaporated milk. Sometimes I will buy a gob and then be so disappointed by the filling. I don’t care for the ones made with confectioner’s sugar. For me, the texture is chalky and the taste is too sweet. I also prefer the plain chocolate ones with vanilla filling. I’ve tried pumpkin, mint-chocolate, peanut butter, banana and vanilla, but nothing hits the spot for me like plain chocolate.
So imagine my excitement yesterday when, on a drive through the Laurel Highlands, we stopped at The Country Pie Shoppe in Donegal. I was really hot and thirsty and need some water. (Why I decided to wear a long sleeve black dress on a ninety degree day, who knows?) But once within the shop, I immediately spied the giant gobs and had to have one. I asked the nice woman in the bakery about the filling, not wanting to waste my time on the confectioner’s sugar filling of a gob, but she was new to the shop(pe) and wasn’t sure about the ingredients. I gave it a shot . . .and yahoo. . . . the filling was fluffy and creamy and wonderful. So when you are on the PA Turnpike near the Donegal exit or if you are spending the weekend at Seven Springs or Hidden Valley, turn into the Pie Shoppe and get yourself a giant gob. It’s surely enough calories for an entire day, but it will be a good day for sure.
Sep 21 2010
This fall, we are able to take larger groups on our culinary tours. It is going to be so much fun. The tours are still small – maximum number of 18 people – and we are travelling in style in a luxury mini-coach. It really is comfy and nice, with big windows for watching the autumn leaves go by.
Our three day-long Autumn 2010 tours start and end at McGinnis Sisters Special Food Stores in Monroeville. The October 21st tour focuses on the hidden foodie secrets of the Laurel Highlands. Our October 26th tour takes us to historic Bedford, Pennsylvania, which also has its share of hidden culinary gems. The third tour, on November 12th, keeps us closer to Pittsburgh in the Gateway to the Laurel Highlands – Greensburg, Latrobe and some little towns in between. Who knew there were so many great food experiences right in our eastern backyard?
Each tour includes round trip luxury transportation, tons of samples, a meal or two (depending on the tour), cooking demonstrations, some history of the area, and a few surprises. All meals, samples, and other fees such as museums are included in the cost. A great time is guaranteed.
Don’t think we’ve forgotten about areas North, South and West of Pittsburgh, but you’ll have to wait for Spring for those tours. We’ll keep you posted about the dates as soon as everything is lined up.
For additional information, click on the Tours tab.
Sep 12 2010
Yesterday when I looked up at the sky, it looked like Fall. It had to do with something in the color of the clouds against the sun, a different kind of shading, a filtered type of light. Winter is not my season, so this first feeling of autumn makes my heart sink a bit, but then I remember that fall means pumpkins, gourds and apples at the farm markets. It’ll be okay.
Two of my favorite large farm markets are located mid-state. One is Roots . . . correctly pronounced like soot and not toot, if that makes any sense. I am too lazy to type it out phonetically. Roots Country Market and Auction is located in Manheim, PA and it’s held on Tuesdays from 9 til 9 (May to October) and 9 to8 (the rest of the year.) My other favorite market is the Green Dragon, located in Ephrata, PA. The Green Dragon Farmer’s Market and Auction is open on Fridays, from 9 til 9 . From January 1 through February 26, it closes at 8PM instead of 9. Bring coolers, because there is a lot to buy.
Both markets have indoor and outdoor stalls, and sell a mish-mash of everything from local produce, to Amish canned foods and baked goods, to livestock, to the usual flea market items like socks and designer knock-off handbags. There’s something for everyone. It’s not for uppity folks. I love it. My favorite stands are the ones with the Amish baked goods, the home canned pickles and the home brewed root beer. I also try to scout out any butcher stalls because they always have giant smoked turkey legs and ham hocks. Homemade split pea soup can sure cheer me up on a chilly fall day.
By mid-September, I can always find lots of different shapes of squash and pumpkins for outdoor decorating, along with apple cider, apple butter and pumpkin whoopie pies ( gobs to some of us) to get me excited for the season. Let’s hope a visit to the markets does the trick, because I feel old man winter breathing down my neck already and I’ve got to prepare. Get me some of those pumpkin gobs, a bag of apples and a few butternut squash. Pronto!
Sep 9 2010
Yippee! Yahoo! The Pittsburgh Public Market is finally open for business, beginning this Friday, September 10. It had a soft opening last weekend, with only some stands up and running, but this weekend is the grand opening. Philadelphia has its Reading Terminal Market, Lancaster has the Central Market and now all of out in the western end of the state get our turn at strolling through aisles of local products in an terrific indoor venue. Pittsburgh’s market is located in the old produce terminal building at 17th and Smallman Street in the Strip District. I am so excited.
When I stopped by last week, I got to taste some super delicious (and whole grain-y) treats from Sustenance Rustic Bakery, with a little Big Hop IPA from the East End Brewing Company to rinse them down. I also tried some tangy barbecued pork from Rowdy BBQ and a smooth nibble of duck pate from Crested Duck Charcuterie. A nice perk is that there is a small seating area where folks can sit and eat their goodies. But it’s not all about food. Other market products that caught my eye were beautiful knit wraps from Edith and Eartha Textiles and natural shea butter soaps and scrubs from Tracy’s Treats. Some stands are as simple as card tables stacked with the vendor’s items, but others, notably the Sito’s Foods area (where you can get a fantastic and healthful salad,) are more ornate.
On my second visit to the market, I bought some precious little fingerling sweet potatoes from Clarion River Organics, a bag of LaPrima Espresso‘s coffee beans, a few Mallo Cups ( frequent readers know Mallo Cups qualify as my addiction) from the Pittsburgh Candy Buffet and a few Pittsburgh “pockets” – soft and buttery pierogies – from Gosia’s pierogi booth. Oh, and I taste tested olive oils at Cosimano e Ferrari. This is gonna be good.
Sep 4 2010
I bounced out of bed this morning, knowing that I was about to explore a new outdoor bazaar, the Ligonier Country Market, held on the grounds of the Loyalhanna Watershed Farm in, you guessed it, Ligonier, PA. I went mainly to look for a nice cookie baker by the name of Dorothy Madore, who I met a few weeks ago at the Rivers of Steel tour. As I wound my way around the booths to find Dorothy, I came across lots of pleasant surprises – from toasty mohair shawls (it was about 55 degrees outside,) to yummy raw milk cheese and unique rustic flower arrangements. I wanted to buy everything in sight, but was limited by the lack of funds in my wallet.
I met recent college grad Molly Enos, who was manning the booth for her family’s maple syrup business, Paul Bunyan’s Sugar Camp. Their Maple Cream is smooth and sweet and is heaven on muffins, pancakes, even crackers. It’s good just eaten right off the spoon, too. For a late summer treat, mix a few shakes of their maple sugar in a skillet with some fresh sliced peaches and a bit of butter. Heat until the maple sugar and the butters melts and the peaches are slightly tender . Oh . . . . my . . . goodness.
Next stop, The Salsa Sisters (724.538.7212) for some of their zippy One Peach of a Salsa. Then, it was across the grassy “aisle” to Nicole Nickischer’s stand, where she sells her Serendipity Dip Mixes.
I like her Tuscan bread dip mix but wanted to try a few others. This mom of five (yes, five) suggested I try the spicy flavors like Habanero and Cayenne Jalapeno. I’m mixing them up tomorrow when my folks come over for dinner. Finally, I made my way to Dorothy Madore’s One Tuff Cookie. I”ve seen photos of her cookies, but never met one in person until today.
Sometimes purchased cookies look good, but the taste is only so-so. The Apricot Snowcap, the Dreamsicle and (yes, I ate three) the Chocolate Cherry Shortbread not only looked like they just finished a “Martha” photo shoot, but they tasted great, too. Before I knew it, the clock struck noon and the market was ending. So many treats, so little time.
A food adventure might be sleuthing out the juiciest June strawberries at a farm market, learning about gone but not forgotten area food treasures, working with a chef during a hands on cooking class or touring Pennsylvania’s artisan cheesemaker’s farms (and meeting a few cows along the way) . . or any of a zillion other fun ways to explore foodie things within a day's drive of Pittsburgh.