A Blast from Naomi Gallego’s Past

Chef Naomi Gallego and the ladies from eatPGH

It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon and I was entertaining a few stowaways from Philly who were riding out the rain from  Hurricane  Irene. We were having a great time.  So I wasn’t going to leave my patio and my guests for just anything.  But for a cooking class with Naomi Gallego, the Executive Pastry Chef at Habitat at The Fairmont Hotel?  Bye bye guests and comfy patio chair. At a little after 4 PM, I was in my car and driving downtown, excited to see what Naomi had up her sleeve for a few food bloggers who were able to attend this special class.

Chef Gallego's homemade pre-dinner beverage.

Naomi didn’t disappoint. I was joined by the ladies from EatPGH to have cocktails and then some bubbly and sweet (and homemade by Naomi) hausmade federweisser, a barely fermented freshly pressed grape juice.   At only 4 percent alcohol, this fruity, fizzy beverage was refreshing and perfect with our first creation, a traditonal flammkuchen.  Both recipes are fond memories from time that Naomi spent studying and working in Cologne, Germany. The flammkuchen, a much better rendition of the Alsatian Tart that I frequently purchase at Trader Joe’s, consisted of a thin raised crust, topped  with bacon, onions ( both raw and caramelized), homemade creme fraiche,  fresh chives, and a sprinkling of salt and pepper. As usual, I tried eat only part of it, but ended up eating the entire savory tart. Next, Naomi threw in a few greens, in the form of a baby arugula salad with white balsamic vinaigrette. So good.   Then we each made a Peach Bakewell Tart for dessert.  I mentioned that I have a hard time with pastry crusts – that the crusts are never flaky, and Naomi felt my hands, labeling them “hot.”   That’s no surprise to me. All of me is a few degrees warmer than it used to be these days.  Even with hot hands, my tart came out looking beautiful.  And it tasted great.


I’ve eaten at Habitat a few times, and also attended special events there. The food has always been carefully prepared and wonderful, with a special attention made to buying from local farms and purveyors.  Naomi is very talented and you umight know her from her appearances on Food Network Challenge.  It’s really a plus to have her in Pittsburgh.

One of Naomi's desserts from a lunch last spring.

I’m hoping the folks at the Fairmont will be doing more classes for the public in the future. I couldn’t wait to get home and tell my family and guests about the class and the recipes that were near and dear to Naomi. Next time, maybe  I can bring others  along. Thanks to both  Naomi and to Julie Abramovic, PR Director at the hotel, for a fun and informative class.

Perfect Super Bowl Food: A One Pot Meal

No one wants to be in the kitchen next Sunday evening at 6:30 PM.  At least here in Pittsburgh.  But the fans will be hungry and in need of something more than black and gold tortilla chips by halftime.  A one pot meal is your best bet. Put it in the oven or on the stove before the game and set the timer to go off at half time! I have some favorites, but needed some new exciting ideas. Mu usual one pot dishes include cider braised brisketAegean chicken or a big pot of black bean soup. But I’ve made them one too many times.

Chicken and Black Bean Chili

So today, my friend Cathy and I drove to The Supper Club for their first cooking class, One Pot Meals.  A perfect way to spend a cold Sunday afternoon, the class gave us four new ways to heat up the kitchen.  Chicken and Black Bean Chili, BBQ Brisket, Snapper Veracruz and Braised Jamison Farms Lamb Shanks with dried cherry couscous were Chef Greg Andrews’ recipes of the day.  Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmm.

Maple Roasted Pears with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

Oh, and dessert was Maple Roasted Pears with house made vanilla bean ice cream.  Each course was paired with an appropriate wine carefully selected by the lovely and knowledgeable Ashlee  Andrews.

Ashlee serves us some Tomaresca Neprica.

The wines were fantastic. After all the wine and the belly-warming food, I was ready to take a nap!

Next week,  once the big game is over and football is finished until next fall, check out the classes at The Supper Club. The next class is February 13 and it focuses on restaurant classics such as Hollandaise and Bernaise sauce and Duck L’Orange.  Another class is scheduled for March 13.  Call Ashlee at The Supper Club for more information or to sign up.

Food Lovers Gift #4 – A Food Outing

Yesterday, I went to a Seven Fishes cooking class at Merante Gifts in Bloomfield. My family has never prepared this Christmas Eve extravaganza, but I am determind to give it a shot this year. Even if half the family doesn’t like fish.  They need to get over it.

Baccala and Potatoes

A cooking class or food tour is the perfect gift for someone who has everything.  The classes at Merante are small and it’s just like hanging out at Nonna’s house.  The food is abundant and the casual atmosphere ensures a perfect afternoon.  Of course, the Seven Fishes class won’t be offered until next fall, but others are on the schedule for winter and spring.  How about buying two “tickets” to a class? One for you and one for a friend or family member.   It fits my idea of giving – one for me, one for you.

Beautiful Mural in Bloomfield

A gift certificate to Burgh Bits and Bites is another winner for just about anyone on your holiday list.  Owned by the lovely Sylvia Emmenegger McCoy, Burgh Bits and Bites tours take you on an edible history through areas like Bloomfield, Lawrenceville and the Strip District.  They last a few hours and are suitable for young and old and good even for folks that think they know Pittsburgh inside and out.

Lunch during our Laurel Highlands Tour

And of course, The Fork and The Road gift certificates would be a wonderful choice for anyone special in your life. ( It really would.)   We have some terrific trips planned for spring, including a new tour to the Italian neighborhoods out near Latrobe and Greensburg.)  Debbi and I have been having a lot of fun “testing” everything to make sure that tour-goers will love each stop.   Click on the Tours tab or email for more information.

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.

Phillip’s Seafood In Atlantic City

Any day spent with either of my daughters is a perfect day to me, but yesterday really was a winner. First of all, I was at the Jersey shore, where waking up to squawking seagulls and the sweet smell of syrupy pancakes from the breakfast place across the street  is part of my morning routine.  Heavenly.   And to make things even better, my Philly based offspring  agreed  to  drive down and join me for a cooking demo at Phillip’s Seafood in the glitzy  Pier Shops at Caesars in Atlantic City. Our family first ate at the  Phillip’s restaurant at Baltimore’s Inner Harbor many moons ago, and we’ve  enjoyed the chain ever since.   So when I read about cooking classes at their NJ outpost on a foodie blog called John and Lisa are Eating in South Jersey, I really wanted to go.  Three  classes were offered this spring.  I missed the first two, but luckily was in town for the third.   (The next series will begin in the fall.)

Executive Chef Paul Drew was our instructor and entertainer for over two hours.

Executive Chef Paul Drew

He showed the six students how to select,clean, filet, stuff and prepare fresh fish, something that always intimidates me a bit at home. Maybe because I live in Pittsburgh and the words “fresh” and “fish” don’t always go together??

Crabmeat Stuffed Flounder with Imperial Sauce

Wow, there sure was a lot of eating going on. After some dim sum appetizers, we then tasted Crabmeat Stuffed Flounder with Imperial Sauce, Tandoori Salmon,  Pan Roasted Red Snapper with Roasted Shallots, Garlic and Tomatoes and Grilled Barramundi with a Citrus Marinade and Grilled Asparagus.   Actually, tasted is the wrong word. Over-indulged is more like it. Each dish was about the size of an regular dinner entree.  The food kept coming and coming. And it was all delicious. After we cleaned our plates four times over, the grand finale was scoop of tropically sweet mango sorbet accompanied by fresh mango “chips.”

Mango Sorbet with Mango "Chips" minus a bite or two!

The perfect ending.   The class also included a wine pairing, with friendly General Manager Brian Fountain informing  us about the vino selections.  The whole event was orchestrated by the completely lovely and very accommodating Corporate Director of Marketing, Michelle Torres. As a bonus, we all went home with the most wonderful swag bag.  I’m keeping the contents a secret, but believe me, this was one super goodie bag.

The Phillip’s folks can arrange  cooking class “parties” for small groups, too.  What a great way to celebrate a birthday, anniversary or other special occasion.  If you’re in the area, pay them a visit, either for one of their classes or just for a great meal at one of the coolest locations in Atlantic City.

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.