Artisan Cheese from Lancaster At McGinnis Sisters

I love cheese. Last spring, at Waltz Vineyard’s barrel tasting (part of a fun Wine and Chocolate tour), I fell in love with Common Folk Pecan Jack.   It came from an unfamiliar company called FarmFromage.  Once I got home, I googled a bit and found out that  a man named Howard, in kind of a second career, now sells these amazing handmade Lancaster County artisan cheeses to restaurants and retail outlets. His goal is to preserve small independent farms.  Read more about Howard here.

Howard likes cheese, too.

I told Karen Novak, the lovely and knowledgable cheesemonger at McGinnis Sisters in Monroeville about Howard and she contacted him, sent for some samples . . and voila . . we can now get Howard’s cheese right here in our area! Karen tells me that she just got some unbelievable FarmFromage Beer Tomme last week. (Tommes are normally produced from the skim milk left over after the cream has been removed to produce butter and high fat cheeses, or when there is too little milk to make a full fat cheese.) I am going to get some tomorrow and you should, too!

Here's Karen!

FarmFromage cheese

If you love cheese, please go out to McGinnis Sisters’ Monroeville store to meet Karen and then pick up some of Howard’s finds when you’re there.

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!

The Laurel Highlands in April

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.

Okay, so it didn't look like this outside yesterday. But it was snowing when we got on our way.

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.

Our buddy, Jim Koontz, at The Compass Inn Museum

Chef Mark Henry from Treetops restaurant.

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.

We can't forget Anna Jo Noviello, owner of Aunt Anna's Biscotti (photo courtesy of Aunt Anna's Biscotti)

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.

Mouth-watering Desserts at Treetops in Acme

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!!

Laura Foley at McGinnis Sisters Special Food Store

I’ve known The McGinnis Sisters – Bonnie, Sharon and Noreen – for a long time, so I was so excited to get out to their Mars store yesterday to see them and to attend the first of their new Brunch and Learn Series. The  speaker was Laura Foley Ramsden, owner of the Foley Fish Company, who has 30 years’ experience in the seafood industry.

Laura Foley shares her knowledge at McGinnis Sisters in Mars

The lovely Laura showed the group how to prepare easy recipes using her seafood and answered lots of questions about proper cooking, sustainability and nutritional quality of our finned friends. Laura, of course, knows how to prepare fish and her recipes where easy and tasty. My seafood cooking skills need some work and today I really learned a lot about cooking fish and about seafood, in general.

Nothing fishy here. Just fresh seafood with a just caught flavor.

Here’s a summary:

1.  Laura suggested cooking fish to  medium rare to avoid changes in flavor and texture that are unappealing. Medium rare.  I hope my better half is reading this because he prefers his seafood overcooked. And it annoys me. (Can you tell?)

2.  The Foley Smoked Salmon was truly buttery and tender.  Laura told us that most smoked salmon is frozen, thawed, then smoked and frozen again, lending it to that tough, kind of stringy texture that’s so familiar to me and my fellow salmon addicts.

3.  Laura prepared a luscious Sauteed Geroges Bank Sole with Tomato Vinaigrette.  She reminded us that all varieties of  sole are actually flounders. News to me.  The sole we had today was  yellowtail flounder. (Hey, I once caught a pile of these in the Florida Keys. No really, it was a giant pile.)

3.  The Foley Fish Company doesn’t own a fishing fleet. It buys directly from the boats, so they can purchase the best of the best.  The company has no use for fish that are caught when the boat is first out at sea, those at the bottom of the boat and have been there for days.  The fish we ate today was so mild that I can’t think of anyone who wouldn’t eat it. No fishy taste or smell at all in the sole or even the shrimp and crab.

4.  “What is scrod?”,  a guest asked.  Foley says  scrod means “little”, so it’s basically a classification of size.  Her company sells scrod cod, scrod pollock, scrod haddock  .   . . you get the idea.

5.  The best swordfish is caught in late August, September and October because the fish swim north from the Gulf (where they spawn) and eat all sort of yummy fishy things that add flavor to the flesh.   And the swordfish population is back, so it’s okay to eat it again!

6.  As the controversy over farmed vs wild salmon continues, Laura Foley tells us that 40% of wild salmon is actually started in a hatchery. And that  the way the farmed salmon is harvested and tested  is super important. Just because it’s farmed, doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be consumed.  Investigate where your food comes from and how it is treated.

7.  And what about those little charts that tell us what areas are overfished? Foley said those charts don’t really tell the whole picture.  It depends on the species of fish and the specific geographic region.  Go to and click on The Limits of Fish Lists for more information.

Warm temperatures are not a friend to fresh, raw seafood. Just a reminder.

I think the key is finding a fishmonger that you trust.  Ask questions. Ask more questions. Know what you are eating.  And provide feedback to the store where you purchase your seafood.

For info about the next Brunch and Learn at McGinnis Sisters Special Food Stores’  Mars location, go to




Edible Gift Idea #6

Memories of Summer and the Heirloom Tomato Festival

Last summer, I drove out to the Heirloom Tomato Festival at  West Overton Village in Scottdale.  It was there that I first came upon Old Linn Run Coffee Roasters.   Kandi and Dave Newell roast beans in small batches (actually, the beans aren’t roasted until  they get your order)  and the resulting brew reflects the care in their roasting process.   Kandi and Dave are beginning to branch out from their home base in Rector, out in the beautiful Laurel Highlands.  Their beans can now be purchased at McGinnis Sisters in Monroeville and at Currant Thymes (136 East Main Street, Ligonier)  – two of my favorite foodie haunts.  Of course, you can give them a call to place your order, too. (724.238.9102)

Something new at Old Linn Run just in time for the holiday season is a nifty travel mug with a built-in French press and a compartment to hold grounds for a second cup of coffee. I love this!  One cup is just not enough on these cold, winter days and French press coffee is the way to really rev up your morning.

My super-dee-duper gift idea?  A bag of Old Linn Run Coffee and one of their new travel mugs.  If you want to kick it up a notch or two, G Squared Gallery in Ligonier carries a beautiful hand-crafted coffee scoop that would be the perfect addition to this gift.

I'm a big copper fan, so I love, love this coffee scoop.

( Shhh, my husband is getting one of these scoops from Santa. I’m tired of seeing a big ol’ tablespoon, along with a pile of coffee grounds, on my kitchen counter-top every morning.  If I have to clean something up, it might as well be something pretty.)