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Archive for April 2011
Apr 29 2011
On the day before the Royal Wedding, we ventured out to Bedford, Pennsylvania, where the British once ruled at Fort Bedford. The weather report said wind and thunderstorms, but the sun peeped through the clouds and not one raindrop fell. Here are a few highlights of the day.
The group started the morning with one of my new favorite treats thanks to Jan Dofner at the Levi Deal Mansion in Meyersdale . . the burnt sugar gobs from Landis Bakery in Berlin, near Somerset.
We had a new lunch stop from our Bedford tour last fall. Michael and Huston at The Bird’s Nest Farm and Cafe did a fantastic job. They pay attention to details, and it shows. Our dessert, Bird’s Nest cupcakes, was beautiful and perfect for the spring day.
During lunch, Lori Sollenberger of Hidden Hills Dairy paid us a visit to tell the group about her farm and her luscious cheese. I really like her cheese and was so excited to meet her.
A visit to Briar Valley Winery ( both the wine making facility and the tasting room) also was on the itinerary. Briar Valley is currently the “hot” PA winery, and we’re so lucky to have them just a short drive from Pittsburgh.
Another stop on the tour was at one of my fave shops for all things Italian, LIFeSTYLE. Stephano and Sarah carry only the finest food, linens and pottery. Oh, and they have a fantastic selection of cookbooks which I just can’t resist. Yesterday’s purchase was My Tuscan Kitchen by Aurora Baccheschi Berti. Tonight, as I watch the highlights of the wedding, I will also be flipping through the recipes in this lovely, authentic Italian cookbook.
Thanks to everyone who was a part of the tour. It was a day fit for royalty.
Apr 21 2011
Today, as I left a local store with bags of plastic eggs, Easter grass, goofy baskets with bunnies and chicks on them and two different types of dye for eggs, one would think I have small children at home. Nope. At 23 and practically 21, my girls are long past hunting for eggs. But each and every year, I continue to design Easter baskets, filling them with chocolates and all sorts of other little items I come across in my travels. My girls will probably moan and groan when they see the baskets on Sunday morning, but I think they would be sad if mom didn’t produce these silly gifts from the Easter bunny. Lucky for me, Easter food doesn’t have an age limit, so I always try to track down my favorites for this time of year. Here are my choices.
For ham and smoked sausage:
Lambert’s Market in McKeesport, 1902 Grandview Ave 15132, (412) 664-7371
Bardine’s Country Smokehouse in Crabtree, 224 Bardine Rd, (724) 837-7089
Minerva Bakery in McKeesport:, 927 5th Avenue
McKeesport, PA 15132-2412
Edward Marc in Trafford, , 509 Cavitt Avenue, 877-488-1808 or 412-380-0888
Mon Aimee Chocolat in the Strip District, corner of Penn Avenue and 21st Street, 412-395-0222
The Chocolate Shoppe in Greensburg, 118 North Pennsylvania Avenue, (724) 216-5847
St Mary’s Ukranian Orthodox Church, I have a soft spot for St Mary’s Ukrainian Orthodox Church in McKees Rocks, but lots of places make wonderful pierogies. 116 Ella Street, (412) 331-9288
Fish for Good Friday:
Have a favorite place for your Easter food? Let me know!
Apr 16 2011
This morning, while sampling a recently pressed batch of Late Harvest Olio Nuevo from David Lagnese at the California Olive Oil Connection in the East Liberty Farmer’s Cooperative, I asked if he knew if any of the vendors had ramps yet. Just my luck! The stall next to David’s, Zang Greenhouse, owned by Rick Zang, had one bunch left. I’m not even sure I like these things that much, but I know that when it is ramp season, then it really means spring is here, and I like that a lot.
Ramps have a bold garlic/onion flavor, and once cleaned and chopped, they are terrific added to scrambled eggs, mixed in with melted butter for sauteing, or tossed into mashed potatoes. Last year, at the Mason Dixon Ramp Festival, I had them in the form of a ramp burger and I also shared a bite of a plate of deep fried ramps. If you have nothing going on tomorrow, drive down to catch the last day of the festival. It’s in a rural area, right on the border of PA and WV, and it’s a relaxing way to spend a few hours. They have music and crafts, and of course, ramps.
All that needs to be said about ramps was recently in a story by Bob Batz at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. I hate to repeat something that has already been so well said. So here it is.
After my purchase this morning, I felt confident that I have made it though the winter and that spring is really here!!
Apr 7 2011
The last few days have been filled with everything Italian. First, I stopped to say hello to Steve Salvi at Fede Pasta in North Huntingdon. He sells his fresh pasta to top restaurants in the Pittsburgh area, and now all of us can buy it directly from Steve to cook at home. He is truly a master pasta maker. And he’s a really great guy, too. See, it’s not good enough if the food product is outstanding, but the person in charge has to be nice. I’m too old to deal with cranky folks. Not happening.
Steve makes many pasta shapes that are difficult ( if not impossible) to find. When I buy from Steve, he knows exactly what type of sauce goes with each pasta shape or every type of ravioli. Check out Fede Pasta’s website for upcoming Open Houses, Classes and Dinners, too.
On another day, I spent a few hours chatting and tossing back some espresso with master restaurateur (and another gem of a guy), Ernie Vallozzi. This led to a sleepless night because caffeine is a no-no after three PM for me, but it was well worth it. Ernie’s Greensburg restaurant‘s menu mixes classics with contemporary Italian and I love the food there. There’s something for everyone. Pizza, salads, pastas, seafood. And the menu doesn’t always stick to just Italian. Valozzi’s chef, Jenna, recently told me about a seafood entree she prepared with Indian spice marinated sturgeon served with Basmati rice with yams and pears in a curried cream sauce. This sounds like something I have to try. In addition to all the good food, the restaurant has a special cheese area, a refrigerated case of Norman Love truffles and the coolest Enomatic wine machine around. ( I think it’s the only wine machine like this in our area!) Even though Greensburg isn’t far from us in the ol’ Burgh, lucky for us, Mr Valozzi is opening a new place, called Vallozzi’s Pittsburgh, in the old GC Murphy building downtown in Market Square Place. I heard some of the plans for the new digs, and I can’t wait until it opens late summer/early fall 2011.
The next day, I was driving towards Pittsburgh, but still a few miles east of home when the clock struck six. Dinner time. So I stopped at The Sunset Cafe, where the place was really hopping. I ordered lemony cod with lump crabmeat served on top of beans and greens. A beans and greens addict, I had to go with this entree even though I hear their pasta and meatballs are to die for. I’ve been tempted by the roasted pork shank on the menu for some time now, and decided to bring this home for the hubby knowing that he would share a bit or two with me. Both entrees were wonderful. Anna Joe and Bobby Noviello really have a good thing going here. Anna Jo also owns Aunt Anna’s Biscotti, but that’s a story for another day.
My last Italian food of the week (that’s a lie) was at Olives and Peppers on Rt 8 in Bakerstown, where I met my accountant for lunch. The decor was calming, even though the place was super busy. It’s a family place, with a nice menu that includes pasta, salads, pizzas, panini and hoagies, but everything is carefully prepared and quite high quality. I ordered the stuffed banana peppers and a side salad. These were some of the best banana peppers I’ve ever eaten. The key: they weren’t over-loaded with that shredded mozzarella that turns the whole dish into a soupy, calorie laden mess, but topped with some shredded Parmigiano-Reggiano instead. Not too saucy, not too cheesy, perfection. Definitely going back here with the family.
My Italian fest all started with our visit to Rizzo’s Malabar Inn in Crabtree about a month ago. The DeFabo men – Jerry, Sr., Jerry, Jr., and Rizzi – do up traditional Italian in a tasty way at their always busy restaurant. Their Feast of St Joseph celebration in March got me on an Italian kick, and I can’t stop.
Tomorrow, it will be a quick visit to the Italian Market in South Philly for some fig bars and maybe a little gelato. Then maybe I’ll switch to another cuisine for a few days. Doubtful.
Apr 3 2011
Yes, it is April. But it’s April in southwestern Pennsylvania, so one can expect any type of weather. And yesterday, on the Laurel Highlands tour, we had about everything Mother Nature can dish out . . . snow, sleet, rain and sun. . . and we still had a great time.
Deb and I carefully select our stops because we love what each location is doing with regards to food. These are all hardworking food artisans or business owners who have a true passion for what they do. We are always excited to have our groups get to know these wonderful folks out in the backroads of Western PA. We try to mix it up . . some shopping, a little history, maybe a cooking demo, a tour of a kitchen. . so that there is something for everyone.
We also hand select the samples we give out, whether on the bus or in the goody bags. We never pass out anything we wouldn’t eat ourselves. We also always like and respect the artisans who have crafted the foods that we sample. It’s a very important part of my company’s mission. Companies such as Wild Purveyors, Millers Mustard, LaDorita Dulce de Leche and One Tuff Cookie and others provide our region with top notch foods. They are wonderful additions to the tours.
The stops on our tours are amazing, but the guests on the tours are just as fantastic. It is truly our pleasure to spend a day with them. The tour is more like a day out with friends rather than a “canned” guided tour. It’s relaxed and informal. And we want everyone to have a good time.
The current set of tours begin and end at McGinnis Sisters in Monroeville. Karen Novak does a spectucular job of getting us some caffeine and a few treats in our bellies before we get on our way for a day of nibbling and dining. The day after each tour, I am always grateful for the wonderful people at our stops and our on tour bus. Thanks to all of you for making this so much fun for us!!
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.