A Royal Day in Bedford

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.

Tod at Briar Valley Winery . . pouring some of their award winning wine

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.

The ladies watching Stephano's demo at LIFeSTYLE

Thanks to everyone who was a part of the tour.  It was a day fit for royalty.

Spring Culinary Tours from the Pittsburgh Area

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 mary@theforkandtheroad.com 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.)


Spring Culinary Tours

I’ve been super busy researching all of the fantastic stops for the Spring 2011 tours.  The Fork and The Road did a culinary tour to Bedford and to parts of the Laurel Highlands last fall, and both were terrific, but there’s always room  for a little tweak here and there.  The number of high quality artisanal foods in these areas just keep increasing and it’s so hard to decide where the tour bus should go.  So hard and so fun!

New this season is the Italian themed tour.  Of course, lots of testing of all of the stops and products is in order, so as soon as there is a day without ice and snow, I head out on Route 30 to investigate all things food. I’m not giving away any big tour secrets, but I can say I’ve been sampling dark chocolate truffles, freshly made cheese,  delicious pasta, crunchy biscotti and a variety of pasta sauces. Oh, and a little vino always enters the picture, too.  The Italian tour is a mix of “old school” and “cutting edge” cuisine. Good stuff.   We’ve already had quite a  response to this tour, so we’re doing two of them instead of just one.

The small tour size (18 people max.) allows us to have a more personal experience at out stops . . talking with the chefs, store owners or vintners.  So don’t delay in signing up.  A few tours are close to capacity.  For more info, click on the Tours tab above.  For even more info or to register, email me at mary@theforkandtheroad.com or call 412.576.1755.  Hope to see you on the bus!!

Boston’s Parker House Rolls

It was a dreary and windy day on the streets of  Boston when I walked past a grand old hotel, the Omni Parker House.  A little ding went off in my head, as with Thanksgiving coming up, Parker House rolls always seem to somehow make it  on to the menu. Not sure why. Maybe it’s their ability to go with anything on the table or their knack for sopping up that last bit of gravy. So imagine my excitement (yes, really) when,  to get out of the rain, I ducked into a bookstore, bought a few magazines,  sat down for a cup of coffee and opened the November issue of Saveur magazine right to a recipe for Parker House Rolls. As I read, I found out that they originated at that very Parker House Hotel down the street! Who knew? (Probably lots of people, but not me.)  So of course, I quickly downed my coffee and  scurried up the street and into the lobby of the hotel to see if they still made the world  famous rolls and if I could buy a few.  Yes and yes.  Within minutes, a half dozen warm Parker House rolls were delivered to my lap. I carefully protected them from the icy weather until I got back to my room. Tender and fluffy, with a distinct New England attitude, the rolls were an early Turkey Day treat.  Now, for sure, the homemade version had to be a  part of my menu for the 25th. The Saveur article stressed that barley malt syrup was an essential ingredient for the best possible rolls but I wasn’t sure where to find it. While driving home ( this is The Fork and The Road, not the Fork and the Airways),  I spied a jar of the requisite sweetener during a detour to Fisher’s Country Store in Bedford, Pennsylvania, I spied a jar of the malt syrup.   Now that I’ve been to the birthplace of the Parker House roll, I can’t wait to give them a special place on my Thanksgiving table.

Flash or no flash, the syrup is the same!

Sign up now for the fall tours!

Mix this kind of scenery with amazing food . . . and you've got The Fork and The Road Culinary Tours!

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.

Tomato Overload

How many tomatoes can one girl eat?  A lot.

Especially when there are so many farm stands and festivals to visit.

On Saturday, it was the Heirloom Tomato Festival in Scottdale, Pennsylvania. On Sunday, it was the Sustainable Feast, sponsored by the Rachel Carson Homestead,  on the Ninth Street Bridge in Pittsburgh. Today, it was my kitchen, loaded with tomatoes from Harvest Valley Farm in Valencia.   My first visit to the Heirloom Tomato Festival, on the grounds of the West Overton Museum will not be my last.  For me, the best part was the tasting table.  Many types of tomatoes that I have never seen before. Heaven on a plate.

Cooking demos, crafters and museum-ish folks like a blacksmith were also a part of the festival. My overflowing dish of tomatoes got the pump primed for more, so  I came home and made a yellow tomato gazpacho, one of the recipes from Chef Matt Finarelli’s cooking class at LIFeSTYLE in Bedford last week. Then on Sunday it was time for the enviro-fest in downtown Pittsburgh.  The cost of admission included some generous sized samples of cutting edge cuisine ( like tiny red sorrel leaves on top of a wild mushroom mousse of some sort from the soon to open Salt of the Earth.) My favorite tomato-y dish was an heirloom tomato salad with little bits of black pepper bacon, tiny croutons and creamy light green pesto aioli  from Corporate Chef Bill Fuller, of the big Burrito group. The basil scented aioli was as good as it gets.  After we came home, I ate two more tomatoes from my kitchen counter. And today, my plum and yellow love apples (I’m getting tired of typing tomato) were just at that point where they neded to be eaten .. .today .  . .  right now . . . so I sliced them up and had them as an afternoon snack.  By dinnertime, the fresh tomatoes were gone, but not forgotten.  But have no fear, I always have a spare jar of Stepped in What? tomato sauce in my pantry. Canned in  the Brandywine Valley, this sauce has just the right amount of herbs and garlic.  Tossed some in with a bit of sauteed zucchini .. and I’ll call it a (tomato) day.

Italian Cooking Class in Bedford, Pennsylvania

Last Sunday afternoon,  I dragged my friend Debbi to Bedford, Pennsylvania for a cooking class at one of my favorite little food shops this side of New York City. Okay,  there’s nothing but water on the other side of NYC, but I just want to emphasize how much  I love this store.  LIFeSTYLE, located on the main street in the little mountain town of Bedford, is, by day – or on most days – a store that sells beautiful Italian linens, first class and hard to find Italian meats and cheese and other carefully chosen items from the owner’s homeland.

Italian Goodies for Sale!

Then, every Saturday night, they host trattoria style dinners for about 20 lucky people who have signed up ahead of time. ( I’ve been itching to get to one of these, as I hear they are terrific.)  And once every few weeks on Sunday afternoons they offer cooking classes.  Our class was taught by Chef Matt Finarelli, who teaches cooking ( and other talents, too) in the DC area.

Squid Ink Pasta with Tarragon Butter and Roasted Prosciutto

The group learned how to prepare a sumptuous tarragon butter squid ink pasta, bright and fresh yellow (and fat free) tomato gazpacho, a baked mushroom/rabbit entree that I never would’ve  tried on my own (basically because it’s a bunny) and a dessert of warm, sweet, fried dough ribbons. Matt is a first class instructor. We learned a lot, and had fun, too.  I already try to arrange my Turnpike trips to coincide with LIFeSTYLE’s hours and now I going to factor Matt’s classes into my plans, too.

Omni Bedford Springs Resort – Cooking with the Chef

It seems I have survived another winter (always the worst season for me) and so I spent this morning thinking about what got me through those bleak and snowy Pittsburgh days. One of the highlights was a late autumn trip to the  Omni Bedford Springs Resort in (duh) Bedford, PA. Hesitant to like the place due to my longstanding phobia of big, old hotels  .  . . maybe I’m permanently  scarred from watching movies like  The Shining  . .  I was not an easy “sell.”

Not scary at all!

But the resort was really idyllic . . . not over the top and ostentatious, but decorated in a casually elegant and comfortable manner with obvious regard to the history of the hotel.   There were games, chess sets, lots of old photos from the resort’s early days; bowls of cookies for nibbling and carafes of hot apple cider for sipping.   Like the baby bear in the Three Little Bears  children’s story, this place felt just right.  Besides getting an A for Upscale Coziness, the  resort also had foodie activities that deserved an A, too.  I pre-registered for two cooking  events – one mid-afternoon mini class and a longer Chef’s Table dinner.  The mini-class introduced me to Chef Konrad Meier’s generous spirit. The class was loaded with cooking tips, jokes, and lots of really great food.  Then just a few hours later it was time to eat again.  The evening Chef’s Table, recommended by a friend, was a 3 plus hour adventure of cooking,  entertainment, great food and lots of wine.

The better half trims some lamb chops.

My husband and I, along with two  friends, ended the meal with a s’more-making  escapade at the outdoor fire pit. Although I hear this resort is just dandy during any season, it was the perfect way to prepare for my winter hibernation.