I Ain’t Afraid of No Ghosts. . . . okay, this is not true at all!!

abraham lincoln

Last week, I took a short trip to Gettysburg, mainly because one of my favorite authors was in town to do a talk and book signing.  Kelly Corrigan, who wrote The Middle Place, Lift and Glitter and Glue, was to speak at the Adams County Arts Center and my desire to wander told me that I had to go. I just can’t sit still once the weather breaks (which it didn’t once I was on the road, by the way). Plus, it was only $35 per ticket, which included the book, a chance to meet Kelly, wine and snacks.  Good deal, right?!!

When I arrived in town, I stopped at the Gettysburg Visitor Center to visit the museum and check out the Battle of Gettysburg cyclorama painting.  It was so interesting. I would highly recommend it for anyone, but especially  for folks like me with poor recollections of the Civil War from junior high history. Of course, I bought up some culinary history books from the shop there, too.  Can’t stop myself from food books.  It is becoming a problem.   From there, I was off to the Dobbin House Tavern ( built way back in 1776) after a recommendation from the guy at the ticket desk inside the visitor center. Abraham Lincoln gave his Gettysburg Address across the street in the cemetery.   Really cool, historic building and good food, but when I got home I noticed weird stuff in my photos which creeped me out a bit.  A friend noticed the shadows and outlines, too.  I googled the Dobbin House and  the internets told me that it is ” very haunted.”  I ‘ve decided not to look at the pictures again and will probably delete them from my files … but here is one or two in case you want to take a peep.  See what you think. The top is of the dining room and the bottom is a peep hole into the spring that still runs into the basement of the building.  The tavern used to be a place where slaves could hid on their way up to Canada.   I am finished looking at them . .forever.dobbinsDobbin 2

 

I stayed at a lovely small hotel, the Federal Pointe Inn, which used to be a school ( built in 1896 ).  The 18 room hotel had a sweet, small bar in the basement, which was so toasty on a snowy (end of MARCH) evening by a pretty stone fireplace.  There I had a crab cake and a beer before the talk just to hold me over.

I also had a light meal and a beer at The Pub earlier in the day ( yes, I eat a lot, I know )  where I tried their signature sweet potato soup with raisins. Sweet Potato Soup I was hesitant, but it was really good.  Not too sugary, not milky –  and the plump raisins were a bonus.

After a few wine tastings in town, I was ready for the book event.kelly corrigan

It was a perfect short getaway.  Just a few hours from home . . . great food, amazing history and good shopping.


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.

 


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.


End of summer food events near Pittsburgh

So much going on right now . . . .and I have NO time to get to some of my favorite summer food events. Boo.  So it’s up to my readers to go in my place. And then let me know about your experiences.

A favorite part of August is all of the delcious tomatoes on menus and at farm markets.

International Village runs through tonight at Renzihausen Park near McKeesport. Filled with food from over 19 countries and the most delicious Croatian barbecued lamb, this is the place to go when you want to try many different ethnic dishes all at once. Get your food,then sit down to enjoy the international dancing.  Love it. Click here for more info.

The Ypapanti Greek food festival in  East Pittsburgh.  This runs through the 21st and is another winner.  The food is delish, especially the apricot baklava, and they also have dancing.  A great place to bring the family.

Vineyards at Christian Klay

And next Friday, there is a Frontier Dinner at Christian Klay Winery to celebrate the start of the National Road 200 years ago.  You can be sure that the evening, which includes food, wine and entertainment, will be memorable.  Get your tickets now.

So many good food events in August.  Just not enough time!

 


I love the Laurel Highlands, Part 2.

Last Friday, I had the honor of being chaffeured around Fayette County by Donna Holdorf, the executive director of the National Road Heritage Corridor, headquartered in Uniontown.  The National Road runs for ninety miles in Southwestern PA and it is lined with treasures – museums, restaurants, markets, wineries, outdoor adventures – and everything in-between.

Look at this view!

We started by taking in the truly breathtaking  view at The Summit Inn.  I’ve driven past this resort for something like 50 years ( obviously someone else was doing the driving way back then) but never stopped to check it out.  I was speechless.  Hard to believe, I know.

Grapevines at Christian Klay Winery

Next stop?  Christian Klay Winery in Farmington right there on the National Road.   After a tour of the property with owner Sharon Klay, we sipped and chatted about her wine, and being no grape expert, I learned a lot.  Sharon is a talented artist and her creativity is evident in her wines and in the ambiance at her vineyard.  Running late, we skipped Washington Tavern at Fort Necessity (but you can bet your booties I’m going back) and made our way to Caleigh’s, a restaurant   off the main street in Uniontown. Donna and I shared a fantastic pork belly appetizer, a cup of crab and corn bisque (made with the first of the local corn) and some sort of amazing cheesecake for dessert, possibly cappucino flavored (?). I was so delirious from all the yummy food, that I can’t remember the flavor. I had their Novara Insalata in between the pork belly and the dessert, just to toss in some veggies.   I would definitely make the trip from Pittsburgh for a meal at Caleigh’s.  Chef Joe Carei’s talented and care is evident.

Whatever the flavor, it was superb.

The trip continued with a few stops in Uniontown, Brownsville and then on to Scenery Hill, where we met Alisa Fava-Fasnacht at Bank 40 Mercantile. Alisa and her husband own Emerald Valley Artisans and they recently opened an old bank (very cool inside)  to sell their cheese and other local products.  A short tour of historic The Century Inn and other cute shops on the main drag and it was getting late and time to get back to home base in Uniontown.  I’m planning a tour or two this fall to the regions around the National Road.  Keep an eye on the Tours link for more details.  They’re going to be great.


Berries, Beach Plums and Dogs

Since  hanging out in south Jersey for the last month or so, I’ve investigated some new foods and culinary spots.

Look for Hammonton, NJ on your blueberry container!

 

It’s blueberry season, and the best blueberries arrive out of the Hammonton area. Plump and sweet, they beat other blueberries by a mile. Difficult to locate some of the actual blueberry farms combined with the fact that I’m too lazy to do the “you pick” thing, leaves me with purchasing farm market berries, but they’re still completely wonderful. Check the box of blueberries at your market.  See if they’re grown in Hammonton.  Local raspberries are still at the farm markets, too.  A mix of berries, a few chopped white peaches and a sprinkling of Moscato wine.  Perfect summer dessert.

And then there’s the beach plum.  About the size of a quarter, these fruits, which grow only along coastal areas between Maine and Virginia can help to anchor the dunes as well as providing great eating and drinking in jams and wine.  The plants blosson in the spring and are ripe for picking in late summer.  There’s even a Cape May County Beach Plum Association, which helps to get the plums planted through the dunes in south Jersey and also promotes research into the fruit.   At the moment, Natali Vineyards is the only winery making beach plum wine in the country. I stopped by for a tasting, finding the flavor to be unique, fruity but not super sweet. I’m not sure it pairs with food well, but I think it would be great sipped after dinner on a hot night.

Bottling Beach Plum Wine at Natali Vineyards

Last but not least is Maui’s Dog House in North Wildwood.  Featured on Diners, Drive Ins and Dives on the Food Network a few years ago, this place has lots of personality. I had a Chicago dog and we shared the Hawaii Five O Fries. Good eatin’. They’re only open until 4 PM, so don’t stay on the beach until it’s too late for a dog.

My Chicago Dog


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.


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.


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.


On The Road Again

It was a  sunny January day in Pittsburgh, and since the holidays were over, it was time to get back out and explore!  I knew that lots of stops on my list would be  closed due to the long holiday weekend  (and because this was Sunday,)  but I just couldn’t stay in the house one more day. No way.  I get stir crazy after a few weeks without a road trip, so today it was off to the south towards Uniontown and Route 40.  I’ve been itching to check out the shops at Scenery Hill for a while. So, they look super cute from the outside, but each and every one was closed. Phooey.  I drove on towards the next “want to see” on my list, the Christian W. Klay Winery in Chalk Hill.  I bought a bottle of their Spiced Apple wine after tasting it (served warm with a cinnamon stick) at Sarnelli’s Wine Cellar in Jones Mill. Yippee, Christian Klay was open . . . both the barn shop and the store further down the road on Rt 40 in Farmington going towards the Nemacolin Resort.  The shop at the barn  is charming and cozy, with little twinkly lights and a woodsy atmosphere and  a stunning view of the  vineyards.

Remnants of snow in the vineyard

In addition to their wine, the shop carries local cheese and maple syrup as well as nice wine-y gifts.  At Christian Klay, they have lots of special events such as Wine & Chocolate, Wine & Soup, Mystery Nights, BBQ Picnics. . .their 2011 calendar of events lists something just about every week.  Pretty cool. I wasn’t in the mood for a wine tasting, although they certainly have a large selection.   I did purchase a few for a later time – the sparkling Summit Mist and  the Raspberry Frost.  If I can’t have local berries all year round, I might as well taste them in local wine!

On my way out, I spied this artsy decoration   made from empty wine bottles.  Love it!  Happy 2011!!