Spring 2012 Tours

The Fork and The Road does not like winter. Not at all. So, now that the holidays are over . . . hope yours were fantastic . . .The Fork is getting snuggled up under blankets and working on the Spring tours.  I am working with Karen Novak at McGinnis Sisters to plan some amazing wine and cheese tours, driving around finding new hidden stops for a Steel Mill themed culinary tour and thinking hard about a chocolate tour.

 So stay tuned for more info in the next few weeks. If you have specific questions, feel free to give me a call at 412.576.1755.

Happy 2012 to everyone and I hope it is filled with good health, happiness and kindness in your world.  xo

Easter In The Burgh

Lots of eggs for dying at DeLallo's in Jeanette

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

McGinnis Sisters’ Special Food Stores

Paska Bread:

Minerva Bakery in McKeesport:, 927 5th Avenue
McKeesport, PA 15132-2412
(412) 673-2863


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:

Fish fries are everywhere, but why not make your own fish fry?  My choice is either Foley Fish from McGinnis Sisters or anything from Penn Avenue Fish Company in the Strip District.

Have a favorite place for your Easter food?  Let me know!

Chocolate, chocolate and more chocolate

Truffles from Smith Organic Chocolates

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.

Talented Kathy Blankenbiller hand paints beautiful chocolate treasures at Wilbur Chocolates

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.

Can there ever be enough chocolate in my life?

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.

Lancaster County Tours

White Chocolate Mousse with Frangelico. Notice the Whoopie Pies - gobs to Pittsburghers - peeping out from the background.

If I’ve ever needed one of those herbal cleanses I read about in magazines, today might be the day.  I spent the weekend in the Lancaster area on a Wine and Chocolate Tour with Lancaster County Tours, LLC, a culinary tour company. The weekend started with a chocolate buffet at my wonderful home base, The Artist’s Inn & Gallery, in Terre Hill.  The literature for this B&B mentioned that the “horse and buggies” would be clip-clopping past the Inn, and they were right.  It’s the loveliest sound. Really is.  I could have stayed in my cozy bed there all day just waiting for another carriage to pass by, but since chocolate… and wine were on the agenda, I sprung to action at 8AM for Jan’s delicious breakfast, which included yummy white chocolate French toast. The day ended with a special chocolate trio dessert at a trendy restaurant in downtown Lancaster.  The chocolate creme brulee was what dreams are made of.  ( I know, that sentence ended in a preposition. I don’t care.)  Each stop on the tour was delightful. . .  talented food and wine artisans, enthusiastic store owners and creative chefs.  The B& B folks ( five are involved with the tours) and the guests were friendly and fun. Really fun. I came home with a bunch of new Facebook friends.

Notice this old tin says Lunch Chocolate. We had breakfast, lunch and dinner chocolate on this tour!

I’m not sharing any stops on the tour because then it would ruin the excitement for your own trip. Which you really should do.  Oh, and there are other culinary tours coming up in the next few months and they would make great Mother’s or Father’s Day  gifts.

Next blog:  my first barrel tasting.  Definitely not my last barrel tasting.

Pittsburgh’s Food Network Connection

Read on to find out where you can eat this luscious chocolate dessert.

Last Saturday night, while flipping channels on our television, I came across a show called Food Network Challenge.  Claire Robinson, the host,  caught my eye, because she was in town last fall for the GoodTaste! Pittsburgh Food and Cooking Expo. I didn’t get to meet Claire, but I heard she was really nice. So  I paused from my channel surfing to watch for a minute. As the four chefs on the Challenge were introduced, lo, and behold, one of the chefs was from Pittsburgh!   Naomi Gallego, the executive pastry chef at the newish Fairmont Hotel restaurant, Habitat, was a Pittsburgh representative on this episode.  The episode was called Chocolate Surprise Proposal, and the mission  was to have the chefs construct a chocolate creation  to celebrate a marriage proposal.  Naomi made a light green, swirly chocolate structure with a beautiful white chocolate flower,  and although she didn’t win the 10k on the show, she was a winner to me.

Meryl Hellring from VisitPittsburgh with Chef Naomi Gallego from Habitat

Skip to Tuesday, when I had a meeting with Meryl Hellring from VisitPittsburgh. We were talking about food (what else?) and I told Meryl about  Naomi and the Food Network show.  Meryl suggested we walk across the street to Habitat for lunch.  After my savory and earthy mushroom soup, with local mushrooms courtesy of  the guys at Wild Purveyors, and a huge grilled tuna sandwich, I mentioned to Tyler, our server, that I saw their pastry chef on TV last weekend.  Minutes later, out popped Naomi to say hello.  A native of Texas, this talented chef has also spent time cooking in Germany and Washington DC.  She loves competitions and is currently training for one with a group of female chefs.  It is wonderful to have talent like this here in our city.

Meryl and I were lucky to be able to  share two beautifully executed and very tasty desserts from Naomi’s kitchen  that day.

Look at this lovely, yet exotic creation!

Sometimes hotel dining leaves a bit to be desired.  But not at Habitat. They focus on local and seasonal foods and I haven’t been disappointed there.  So give it a try . . and make sure to try some of Naomi’s fabulous desserts.  Oh, and watch The Food Network on February 12 at 6 PM for another airing of the show.

Yes, I am blogging about the Laurel Highlands . . . again.

But I can’t help it.  I can’t imagine another place with so many good foodie finds in such a small area. And so many nice people.  Today I’m thinking of Heather and Bob Kuban, who own Currant Thymes in Ligonier (136 E. Main Street, 724.238.2930) and Kandi Newell and her husband Dave,  who run Old Linn Run Coffee Roastery,  in Rector, Pennsylvania.  Not only did these folks generously give samples out to the ladies on my culinary tour, but they sell some of my favorite treats to purchase for myself and for gifts.

Good eatin' at Currant Thymes

One of my rules of stops on the tours is that the owners have to be kind and the products/services have to be the best.  Heather sells some of the finest maple syrup on the planet, tapped in Rockwood on the Paul Bunyan Maple Syrup Camp.   Their Maple Cream is smooth and sweet, heaven on a spoon, or on pancakes, waffles or toast, too.  Heather also carries a line of towels from a company called Mu Kitchen.(The Mu is missing an umlaut – two dots – over the u, but I couldn’t find it on the WordPress symbol tab.) They’re colorful and stylish, and I especially love the ones with the built in scrubbers. Heather samples a  warm spicy chocolate dessert soup, a broccoli cheese soup and a rich puff pastry hors’ deuvre filled with brie and Meyer lemon preservs. Oh my! And then there was Kandi.  Working hard to promote her small batch coffee roasting business, she cheerfully  explained all about their beans and the roasting process. And the subsequent brewed coffee was (is) the best. Full flavored with some zip, the Bobolink Farms Brazilian is my favorite.

My tour was called Hidden Culinary Treasures in the Laurel Highlands, but I would love it if everyone knew about these folks.  They wouldn’t be so hidden, but they’ll always be treasures to me.

Heather from Currant Thymes

Kandi from Old Linn Run Coffee Roastery

Mallo Cups, Marshmallows and Zero Willpower

I love marshmallow. I know, I know. It’s overly sweet and often contains “bad” ingredients like corn syrup and  artificial this ‘n that, but there’s something about that white fluffy heaven that makes it irresistible to me. So imagine my excitement to find that one of my childhood favorites, the Mallo Cup, is made only a few hours away in Altoona, Pennsylvania! It got me thinking about my favorite  marshmallow-y foods.

1.  First, the Mallo Cup. A little blob of runny marshmallow enclosed in a chocolate/coconut shell. Okay, so it might not be  made from single estate chocolate or natural cane sugar, but one bite of this brings me right back to Halloween night in the 60s, when I would sort my candy   – give the Clark bars to my dad and save all the Mallo cups for myself. I love them. The factory store in Altoona sells all sorts of Boyer brand candy and other related gifts, as well as large boxes of seconds.

They might be seconds, but my mouth doesn't know the difference!

They don’t do factory tours, but in the factory store you can watch a video of the production that aired on the Food Network’s Unwrapped show a few years ago.

2.  The homemade (store-made, actually) chocolate covered marshmallows at Rauhauser’s Candies in Ocean City, New Jersey. Tender and creamy marshmallow coated with a thin coating of chocolate, these squares are better than the usual beach treats of salt water taffy to me.  I like their crunchy version and the chocolate-caramel ones, too. Once I tasted these, chocolate dipped supermarket marshmallows just didn’t cut it.

3.  Marshmallow Fluff. Nothing else needs to be said. Except that in college, we would dip a spoon in the fluff, then in peanut butter then in mini chocolate chips. The Freshman 15 explained in just a few bites!

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

4.  Next come the toasted coconut marshmallows from Make A Cake on Rochester Road in the North Hills section of Pittsburgh.  Wandering around a cake supply store is my idea of fun and just think of my joy when I came across these.  When the marshmallow is “in season” ( I think success of making it is weather dependent.) I buy a few pieces, tell myself I’ll wait until I get home to eat it, and then proceed to devour the entire bag even before I get out of the parking lot.

There's Make A Cake's Toasted Coconut Marshmallow on the right.

5.  Lastly,  when I’m in an epicurean mood,  I need Little Flower Candy Company’s marshmallows. Cut into big squares, they come in chocolate, cinnamon, coffee and vanilla. I  buy them at Mon Aimee Chocolat in Pittsburgh’s Strip District.  These marshmallows  make  elegant dippers for chocolate fondue and are pretty in hot chocolate.Their texture is more solid than Mallo Cup marshmallow or Marshmallow Fluff.

Sometimes I just want to look at pictures of marshmallows. Then I pull out Marshmallows: Homemade Gourmet Treats by Eileen Talanian and dream of happy marshmallow filled days.

Chocolate Heaven – A Day in Hershey

There’s a lot to do in Chocolate Land.  Hershey Park, Hershey’s Chocolate World,  Hershey Gardens.  I wonder how many folks are so pooped out from roller coasters and roses that they end up missing a real gem, The Hershey Story. Located near the rest of the cocoa craziness (craziness is not a bad thing)  right there on Chocolate Avenue, The Hershey Story building houses lots of  intriquing memorabilia from Mr. Hershey, a Chocolate Lab, an upscale cafe, a Chocolate Tasting and a pretty sweet (ha ha) gift shop.  Impressive.

Chocolate Tasting in the Cafe

Even though it was only 10 am, I was already up for a chocolate tasting.  Six shot-size glasses were filled with thick,creamy mixtures of  warm chocolate from different countries.  A helpful placemat described each type of chocolate. Like a wine tasting, I was to look for flavor nuances . . fruity, nutty, oaky.  Except this was chocolate. Even better.

What a way to start my day!

The Chocolate Tasting isn’t a group activity so you just order it at the Cafe and then take your time savoring every last drop.  Just when I had emptied my little cups of melted heaven, it was time for  class in the Chocolate Lab, a spiffy, white room designed to look a like a food science laboratory.

After some background on the history of chocolate and a little cocoa trivia , we were instructed on how to make a chocolate tulip that can be filled with mouse, fruit or ice cream.

Dipping balloons to make chocolate tulips

After a quick stop at the Outlets at Hershey, it was time for a break. And for me there’s no better place to relax and get a feel for the Hershey countryside  than at The Inn at Westwynd Farm.  I’ve stayed here three or four times now, and every time I wish I could hang around just a few days longer.  Cookies, brownies and cakes greet you, the rooms are delightful and the breakfasts, delicious.

The back of The Inn at Westwynd Farm

After checking in, I sat in a rocking chair on one of the many porches and watched the  horses go for a spring gallop as I thought out a strategy on how to avoid the big bowl of Hershey’s candies that host Carolyn Troxell puts in every room. Needless to say, the best laid plans . . . .