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Archive for ‘Westmoreland County’ posts
Oct 17 2011
Sorry for the long gap since the last post. A few new fall tours and some charter tours were underway and things got crazy.
Let me tell you about some of the many wonderful people and stops from recent trips.
First of all, my tours are pretty informal, so by the end of the day, my guests feel like old friends to me. This really is one of the best parts of the tours. The people are just the best. Just had to say this.
Second, the stops are great ( or I wouldn’t have selected them in the first place ) but the owners of the businesses or the docents at the museums or the managers at the stores . . or whoever welcomes us . . .really do make each tour special. These are hard working folks who have a real passion for what they do. And they want to share their enthusiasm. I am truly honored that they are wiling to share their time and expertise with my tours.
Okay, so if you missed the tours this fall, I’ll give you a few places to visit on your own. The Compass Inn Museum in Laughlintown is just a treasure. If you go, which you should, please ask for Jim Koontz (see his photo above.) Jim is the innkeeper there, and he continually delights my groups with his knowledge of the inn and of much, much more. During the holidays, The Compass Inn does candlelight tours. The small gift shop is a real gem, too. Check out the MANdles (man candles) and the books of word trivia. THE BEST.
While you are in the Ligonier area, stop at Connections Cafe for lunch. Sharon Detar, the owner, once worked for a vegetarian restaurant and her attention to healthy and fresh really shows. Try her curried chicken salad and the white chocolate raspberry tart.
If you’re out in the Mon Valley, take a drive through Belle Vernon to visit Melanie Patterson at the Good Ol’ Days House. You can usually find Melanie in her store across the street, and if you’re lucky, she’ll give you a quick tour of the bed and breakfast across the street. Melanie carries lots of old time candy and also sells some delicious Gene and Boots ice cream.
For some delicious food that is close to the Burgh, drive on over to the Tin Front Cafe in Homestead. The lovingly prepared vegetarian food is a treat. Ask for Ellie, Daniel or David to fill you in on the history of the building. And then mozy over to Judy’s cookware store next door.
The next sunny autumn day, take a few hours and visit some of these real gems right in our backyard!
Sep 5 2011
Sorry about that title, but I just couldn’t resist. It’s been a long and rainy holiday weekend and I’m getting a bit loopy.
But next weekend is going to be a good one for Pittsburgh food and beer lovers, rain or shine.
The Steel City Big Pour, to benefit Construction Junction, is sold out for next Saturday, but there still lots of things to do during Big Pour Week, which starts on Tuesday the 6th. There are really unique tastings, tours and dinners almost every night. I’ve been on a beer kick ever since tasting some cask beer at the Victory Brewing Company in Downingtown last spring and then touring Anheuser Busch in St Louis this summer. Now, instead of ordering a glass of wine with dinner, beer is often my beverage of choice. I’ve been trying to branch out past Corona with a lime, so this past Friday I had a bottle Guatamalan Mariachi at Alma (great meal, by the way) and I really enjoyed its easy drinkability on a super hot day. (Many beer critics label Mariachi as skunky, but I didn’t notice that. Not even sure if I would know skunky if I tasted it. Ha ha)
September 9 through 11 is the Fair in the Park at Mellon Park on the edge of Shadyside and Squirrel Hill. Always good for getting a headstart on high quality handmade holiday gifts and for eating some “fair” foods like fried veggies and lemonade. Also the 9th through the 11th is the Pittsburgh Irish Festival. Dancing, Gaelic sports, an Irish marketplace and food like bangers and mash, corned beef and cabbage and Irish stew are just part of what you’ll find at the Riverplex complex at Sandcastle. Then we have Mountain Craft Days in Somerset with crafters, open hearth cooking demonstrations and more and then the Highland Games in Ligonier, with Highland dancers and Scottish food (haggis, anyone?).
Also next Sunday, the Italian Festival at Rizzo’s Malabar Inn in Crabtree will showcase music, cooking demonstrations, great food, Italian wines . . . some of Rizzi’s fabulous homemade gelato and things like facepainting for the kids. The event runs from 11 to 7. It’s a short drive from Pittsburgh and the generous and kind DeFabo family always delivers when it comes to fun festivities and great food
Last, but not least, is the Sunday Community Heritage Market at the Pump House in Munhall. Ethnic crafts, food and other fun and educational activities for all of the family to enjoy are all in this historic site of the 1892 Homestead Lockout. It only runs through the end of September, so get there now. The market is open from 11 until 3.
Aug 1 2011
Hooray! Hooray! Two tours are scheduled for fall of 2011. I’ve been away in St Louis (great time . . .and the topic of the next blog) so I’m sorry for the delay with this info. The first fall tour is on Thursday, September 29, when we’ll doing a Laurel Highlands II tour. The Laurel Highlands trip was so successful last year (the LH actually include quite a bit of W Pa, but our LH tour focuses on Ligonier and surrounding towns) that we changed the stops a bit and added a new tour in the same area. Want to learn about grilled pizza (oh, yes), herbs and other hidden foodie finds just an hour from Pittsburgh? This is the thing for you.
Then, on Tuesday, October 4, it’s a new route for The Fork and The Road. We’ll be going south of Pittsburgh toward the historic National Road. The pieces are coming together, but believe me, this is going to be a fun food and beverage filled tour, with lots of history thrown in. It’s such a beautiful area and in October the leaves will be stunning. On this adventure, we will be leaving from the South Hills instead of Monroeville. Good news for all of you who have had to drive through the nasty M’ville traffic to get to us last year. We do love McGinnis Sisters, however, and they will still be with us in spirit ( and we’ll be munching on some of their goodies) on this tour.
One thing I am very proud about on our fall tours is that the people who run the businesses where we stop are just the kindest, most hard working folks around. They are truly wonderful and I am thrilled to bring my groups to them.
We’re quite busy with charter tours this fall, but wanted to make sure we included a couple of trips for the general public. Keep checking back, because we are also adding half day tours this fall. They will also be posted soon. Email or call for more details . . .seating is limited. email@example.com or 412.963.8565
May 4 2011
How they became known as a weed, I’m not sure. ( Well, they are fairly invasive, I guess.) But they’re pretty, and edible, and with all this rain in Western PA, they’re popping up daily in all of the yards in my neighborhood. You either love ‘em or hate ‘em. Dandelions.
As a child, my Italian relatives tossed tender spring dandelion greens with olive oil and vinegar and savored every bite. I never ate them, for at the time iceberg lettuce and canned green beans were the only veggies that touched my lips. Today, I enjoy bitter greens, so when I see dandelion greens on the menu or in the market, rest assured that the’ll be on my dinner plate. But I’d never eaten the flowers, until a few weeks ago. Well, I didn’t actually eat the flowers, I ate jelly made from the flowers. And it was surprisingly good.
Jam and jelly maker Linda Croskey, owner of The Purple Spoon, kindly allowed me to watch while she made the jelly with dandelion flowers from her own vast backyard of yellow blossoms. Believe me, it’s a real effort to pick enough dandelion tops to make even a few jars of jelly. I picked just a few while chatting with Linda. Yikes. That was enough picking for me.
(Linda makes a sweet and stunning purple violet jelly, too. Can you only imagine how many violet tops it takes to make a jar of jelly? This is tedious work here.) The final product tastes a lot like honey. It’s great on with peanut butter or dabbed on top of a slice of cheese.
Judy Trabbold , owner of the Mountain Herb Shoppe and the Historic Log Cabin Inn in Donegal is also into dandelions. (The inn is the oldest log cabin in Westmoreland County.) On June 12 from 2 to 4 pm, Judy is having a Dandelion Extravaganza with lessons on making dandelion jelly, syrup, salad, wine, and more. I hear that dried and ground dandelion leaves taste just like coffee whem brewed. Who knew? Judy will also discuss the medicinal qualities of the dandelion. Contact her to register.
Sounds like a dandy time!
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 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!!
Mar 14 2011
A quick word about the spring 2011 tours. After many requests for a Saturday tour, we’re venturing out to the Laurel Highlands on Saturday, April 2. If you went on this fun tour last fall, our newest version is similar, with a few little tweaks from last time. A new shop or two and a mini-factory tour. But just like last October, we meet some fantastic food purveyors and chefs and eat a lot of wonderful local foods. A delicious specially prepared lunch and award winning dessert are included, too. And a local wine sampling!!
The Bedford tour on April 28 also has a few twists from the route we took last fall. I know you’ll love the changes. We sure do. If you’ve been meaning to drive out to Bedford but never get there, let us do the driving for our culinary tour to historic Bedford. Breathe in the fresh mountain air while we eat and drink our way through the town. Good stuff.
Our new tour, the one with an Italian focus, is turning out to be magnifico. It covers many traditional Italian food specialties such as pasta, biscotti and cannoli along with some contemporary Italian cuisine. We’ll be meeting many personalities in the Italian world of Greensburg and surrounding areas, too. This tour is running twice. Once on Thursday, April 14 and then again on Thursday, May 12.
A few spots remain on most tours, and people come and go off the list due to other commitments that arise, so if you are interested, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412.576.1755.
All tours leave from McGinnis Sisters Special Food Store in Monroeville around 9 AM and return at about 5 PM. The cost is $125, which includes transportation, all samples, meals, wine tastings and admission fees ( when applicable.)
Mar 3 2011
After last weekend’s Wine and Chocolate Tour in Lancaster, one might think that I’d be tired of products from the Theobroma cacao tree. Never. After I arrived back home, I quickly ordered some spectacular hand-painted chocolate gifts from a stop on the tour, the Wilbur Chocolate Company in Lititz, PA. The chocolate artists there are really busy, so they told me to order early for Easter. Can’t tell you what I ordered. It would ruin my Easter surprise.
Then the next day, I took a drive out to the small town of Trafford to Sherm Edwards Candies. I read about this company in a little book from the Carnegie library called Pennsylvania Snacks: A Guide to Food Factory Tours by Sharon Hernes Silverman. This book is my idea of a page-turner. Annoyed that a chocolate factory existed that I didn’t know about, I hopped in the car, picked up my friend Debbi and off we went to check it out. The shop sells both Sherm Edwards and Edward Marc chocolates, has a huge variety of Easter candy and outlet prices on the Edward Marc line. (I first discovered Edward Marc Chocolatier at The Milkshake Factory on the South Side.) They had chocolate airplanes, ballerinas, computers and cellphones in addition to the traditional bunnies and chicks. And all sorts of beautiful gourmet chocolates. Kimberly gave us a quick tour of the facility where they were making chocolate covered cherries. So much handiwork goes into each batch of chocolates here. I was impressed.
Next stop on my personal chocolate tour? Wilson’s Candies (408 Harrison Ave, Jeanette. 724-523-3151). I found out about Wilson’s after I stopped a candy shop in Ligonier and asked about locally made chocolates. I was shown some dark chocolate apricot creams – I love apricots – and the told me they were from Jeanette, but she didn’t want to divulge the name of the company that made these goodies. I bought some of the creams and then went home to investigate with my good friend, Ms. Google. Ha ha. I found it. Wilson’s Candies has been in business for over 60 years in the small town of Jeanette and gets rave review on the internet. All their chocolates are made in the basement, just like at Sherm Edwards/Edward Marc. They had the apricot creams that I bought in Ligonier, but also have lots of Easter candy. One of their specialties are cordials – cherry, strawberry and raspberry. Raspberry cordials? Never heard of that one. Of course, I had to give them a try. Believe me, they are luscious. You can see one of the berry cordials oozing onto the plate in the photo above. Fruit and chocolate. The best.
So much chocolate, so little time.
Feb 24 2011
Last year was the first that I ever heard of the Feast of Saint Joseph. I was schlepping my grocery bags around the Lancaster County Farmers Market in Wayne, PA when I spied some yummy cream puffs in the pastry case. Zeppole De San Giusseppe? Huh? Whatever. Of course, I bought a few of the light as air cream filled treats anyway and they were delicious. So that was that.
Then just last week, after consuming a gigantic bowl of polenta with broccoli rabe and sausage at Rizzo’s Malabar Inn in Crabtree, PA, I picked up flyer for their Feast of Saint Joseph. I told my friend Debbi (an Italian like me) about it and how I’d never even heard of this until last spring, but Deb knew all about the St Joseph’s celebration.
Deb can never figure out why my family doesn’t serve cannoli, never eats some something she calls an Italian seven layer cookie (“OMG, are you even Italian?” was her comment over these unknown cookies), and now. . .I wasn’t familiar with St Joseph’s Day. What sort of Italians are we, anyway? I was starting to feel like a fraud. So I did a little investigating.
Turns out that because my Italian roots are from the Reggio Emilia region in Northern Italy, we don’t eat the same things as many families from Naples on south past the tip of the boot. The roots of cannoli ( and the roots of half of Debbi) are in Sicily, and so are the beginnings of St Joseph’s Day. Seven layer cookies? Still figuring that one out.
So, for those who don’t know the St Joseph’s story, it seems that in the Middle Ages there was a severe drought in Sicily. The people prayed to St Joseph to fix the situtation. They promised that if he came through, they would have a wonderful feast in his honor. The rains came, and giant buffets of special foods were set up and served to rich and poor. In many southern Italian communities, a three tiered alter – which represents the Holy Trinity – is set up with food, linens, flower and gifts, all to honor St Joseph. (For those who don’t know, this is THE Joseph, the carpenter who was married to Mary. Joseph, the father of Jesus.)
At Rizzo’s, the menu will include traditional meatless festive dishes like spaghetti with raisns and breadcrumbs, sweet rice, smelts, baccala, those special cream puffs and fried fritters. Better wear my stretchy pants!
The official day is March 19, but lucky for us that Rizzo’s celebration runs from Thursday, March 17 through Sunday, March 20. Make your reservations now at 1-800-794-4323, because the event sells out. Oh, and you can catch Rizzi DeFabo cooking up a preview of the St Joseph’s feast on the KDKA’s Pittsburgh Today Live on March 14.
“Viva la tavola di San Giuseppe!”
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.