More wonderful holiday food gifts.

Nothing’s more exciting than coming home to find a package on your doorstep.  That’s why I love food of the  month clubs.  Every month a surprise awaits!   Go local by getting the hard to buy for person on your list a Biscotti of the Month membership. My friend, Anna Jo Noviello, owner of Sunset Cafe and Aunt Anna’s Biscotti in Greensburg, makes the best biscotti around. I never really liked the dry, almond scented biscotti from my childhood, but Anna Jo’s are  different. They’re  a little softer and  come in more contemporary flavors, although they sell the traditional almond ones, too.

Aunt Anna's Biscotti on the cooling rack at the bakery in Greensburg

Anna Jo has lots of varieties, but myfavorites are Red Velvet and Coconut Lemon Macadamia. The Biscotti of the Month Club is a gift that everyone would enjoy.

Another terrific idea for a local gift is a spirit filled growler from Arsenal Cider House. After months of trying to get there, I finally stopped on Saturday morning and I just loved it!  Located in a house across from the Allegheny County Health Dept. in Lawrenceville,  these folks make hard ciders from different local fruit and they also make  mead.  I can’t really describe this place, but I loved it and I loved their products, too.  You  must stop by to have a sample.  I bought the Pear, apple and Cinnamon apple.  I was told that concord grape would be next.  Their bottles are super attractive, the vintages have fun names and the contents are excellent. I can’t think of a better hostess gift for this season. ( If you can keep from drinking it yourself.)

Any other last minute food gifts ideas?  Let me know.  So many great products right here in Western PA.  We are so fortunate.


Viva Italia!

Fresh Gnocchi at Fede Pasta

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 Salvi, owner of Fede Pasta

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.

Anna Jo Noviello (photo courtesy of Aunt Anna's Biscotti)

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.

Jerry Jr., Jerry Sr and Rizzi De Fabo

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.

The pastries at Isgro's Bakery in South Philly

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.

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 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.)


World’s Greatest Love Story Contest on Regis and Kelly

Last week, I had the chance to meet Anna Jo Noviello, owner of The Sunset Cafe and Aunt Anna’s Biscotti in Greensburg. Besides terrific Italian food and to die for biscotti (she has two of my favorite flavors. . . . coconut lemon and red velvet,) Anna told us that two newly married relatives were vying to win a honeymoon courtesy of Regis And Kelly on ABC if they got the most votes in a World’s Greatest Love Story Contest.  I’m not going into detail here, but go to the show’s site, and read Meredith and Blake’s story.  Then vote for them. And do it by Monday the 21st at 6PM.  Thank you!!!

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.

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.