Tag Archives: Local Ingredients

Eden: “Fresh. Local. Smart.”

January 2013

After the countdown and the ball drop, attention often turns to weight loss. Gyms and yoga classes fill to the brim. About two weeks later, the ellipticals are free, the yoga classes offer breathing room again, and old habits resume. A more positive approach may be a resolution to be healthier, but without a concrete strategy, the resolve to be healthier can quickly dissolve. If you live in Pittsburgh, there is one concrete step you can add to your health routine for a more successful outcome. Welcome to Eden

Eden Exterior

In their own words…

Eden is Pittsburgh’s premier restaurant for clean and healthy eating. We specialize in offering raw, vegan entrees, local produce and chicken, and Sunday brunch. Eden is a BYOB establishment and is located in Pittsburgh’s beautiful Shadyside neighborhood. Your health is very important to us, as is the health of our local farms and cooperatives. We want to do good for you, and do good for our community.”

Eden Interior

Based on the clean, vibrant design of the website and Eden’s mission, I had high hopes for a highly designed cafe and a healthy brunch. Unfortunately, the design of the interior did not match the caliber of the website. The space suffers from its basement level location, but lacking natural light aside, the space calls for brighter lights, brighter colors and more modern, streamlined furniture. As for the food…

Whole wheat waffles

Since I have a juicer, I skipped the many fresh juice options on the menu, but for those looking for a really fresh and wholesome way to start the morning, Eden has you covered. For those looking for a caffeine boost, Eden never leaves your brunch mug empty. In the spirit of sharing, my brunch friend and I split the Farm House Waffles and the Vegetable Omelette.

What makes Eden’s waffles stand out is their ingredients. They are made with local, free-range eggs, whole-wheat flour, housemade rice milk and brown sugar, served with real butter and local maple syrup.  For the gluten intolerant, there is also a gluten-free option.

Waffles for Sharing

The whole-wheat waffle and honey butter had me sold, but the “pile high” options ($1 each) were a little lackluster. With such a commitment to local foods, I was expecting the apple topping to burst with the sweet flavor local apples deliver, but these little chunks tasted more like the red delicious apples of grocery store ubiquity. I was also expecting the apples would be lightly caramelized, but they arrived raw, which I am willing to accept from the perspective of preserving the raw fruit’s nutrients.

Eden Omelette and Salad

The Eden omelette offers fresh vegetables, creamy local goat cheese and the assurance of knowing it was prepared with pure olive oil and sea salt.

All in All…

Design disappointment and minor preparation complaints aside, I appreciate eating at a restaurant that prioritizes health in all its details. I’d like to give Eden a second chance and try the more challenging and unique raw menu options, and specifically, I’d like to end my next visit with the Hazelnut Mexican Cacao Torte! I’d also love to redesign that interior! As always…will design for food! Let’s talk!

Giveaway: Farm to Table Tasting Event!

November 2012

In 2009, the word locavore was added to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, meaning one who eats foods grown locally whenever possible. Titling one’s eating habits can often be tricky or even pedantic, but tasting the difference between a locally grown tomato and the perfectly round, conventional grocery store variety is easy. Whether or not you’re into the politics or just purely into the quality of taste, there is a Pittsburgh event rapidly approaching which you should attend, and you could possibly attend for FREE!

Farm to Table Pittsburgh, creators of the popular annual Farm to Table Conference, are hosting the first ever Farm to Table Harvest Tasting on November 10th, 2012 at Bakery Square. The family-friendly, all ages event will feature tastings and samples from fifty local vendors. Farm to Table Pittsburgh provides Local Food Programs for schools, employers, senior residences and community groups. Their goal is to bridge the gap between consumers and local food producers by teaching how locally grown food benefits both physical health and local economic health.

The Giveaway

I have a pair of Harvest Tasting tickets to give to a lucky reader! Just leave a comment telling me why you support local foods, and on the morning of Friday, November 9th, I will randomly select a winner to attend the event and taste the local bounty!

Winner, winner, local foods dinner!

Congrats to Sean Michael! I hope he gets to eat something made with local corn flour! Thanks for all the comments and local foods support!

First Annual Pepper Farm Festival (Pittsburgh, PA)

October 2012

There once was a Sunday that stretched lazily in the sun like a cat who knows no schedule. It was a Sunday filled with beauty, with the slow meandering path of a tractor in a field, with pillowy clouds changing course, with laughter and clanking glasses. It was the Sunday of an Italian style BBQ, at White Oak Farm, and it was on that Sunday the owners told us about an upcoming Chile Pepper Festival.

The First Annual Chile Pepper Festival was a chance to celebrate bursts of flavor and bursts of fall colors. It was a chance to see the farm filled with vendors and visitors. It was a chance to see the trees filled with colors. The owners of Reyna Foods, Pittsburgh’s premier Latin American grocer, created the event to celebrate the food they love on the farm they love.

Since my introduction to the farm, the barn had been transformed. More of the vintage farm equipment had been restored, and the barn felt more like a museum dedicated to old farming practices than the stumbled upon, nearly forgotten collection it felt like previously. Meanwhile, the outdoor area was a brand new set up of food and craft vendors.

Grilled corn + a slather of melted butter!

A grilled chile pepper (sweet) stuffed with cream cheese and wrapped in bacon

Somehow the bacon-pepper came out looking like a sea creature?!?

A Hoboken Gourmet sausage sandwich topped with HOT peppers! The peppers were so hot, we had to buy a Mexican Coke to de-spice our palates.

I’ve mentally planned so many events in that beautiful barn space.

Reyna’s isn’t exaggerating when they call themselves the “premier Latin American grocer.” The store is in constant motion, with fresh corn tortillas riding up and down and around little conveyor belts. Meanwhile, one finds Pittsburgh’s best, made-to-order tacos street side (I highly recommend the chorizo taco). The same taco expert responsible for Reyna’s sidewalk sales was sizzling meats at the festival as well, and this time Edgar the expert and his crew were selling lamb tacos! LAMB MEAT TACOS!

After finishing our tacos, it was time for a wander…

Sometimes it’s difficult to appreciate autumn and give the season the praise it deserves without complaining about the cold that is to come. Sometimes I just dread winter too much to enjoy the last warm breezes, but this day was the perfect way to appreciate fall in all its glory.

“Autumn…the year’s last, loveliest smile.”
-William Cullen Bryant

An Ode To A Cabin In Autumn: A Fall Flavored Lasagna

September 2012

“Is not this a true autumn day? Just the still melancholy that I love – that makes life and nature harmonise. The birds are consulting about their migrations, the trees are putting on the hectic or the pallid hues of decay, and begin to strew the ground, that one’s very footsteps may not disturb the repose of earth and air, while they give us a scent that is a perfect anodyne to the restless spirit. Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns.” -George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans)

I do find autumn to be quite delicious, especially when fall’s flavors are layered between noodles and cheese! The original Bon Appétit recipe called for broccoli rabe, which I replaced with brussels sprouts. Firstly, I associate those mini cabbages with fall more than broccoli rabe, and secondly, that’s what was available at my grocery store. I also used a brown rice noodle for the health and flavor merits, and this recipe could easily become a gluten free staple if you use an alternative flour (I only had whole-wheat pastry on hand). Extra dashes of red pepper flakes, added to the squash roasting stage, made for a kick of spice, contrasted by hints of cinnamon and nutmeg in the béchamel sauce.  Enjoy with hot cider or hard cider before your migration to successive autumns!

Squash and Brussels Lasagna

Adapted from my food publication deity, Bon Appétit.

Ingredients

Filling

1 local butternut squash, peeled, halved, seeded, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices
3 tablespoons olive oil plus more
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Crushed red pepper flakes

Fresh brussels sprouts (the typical grocery store sized bundle), rinsed, stalk removed and pulled apart into leaves

8oz fresh mozzarella, chopped
1/2 lb whole-milk ricotta
1 cup coarsely grated Parmesan
coarsely grated lemon zest from 1 lemon
1 Tablespoon minced fresh sage
1 Tablespoon minced fresh rosemary

Preparation

For the Filling

Preheat oven to 400°.

Place squash and 3 tablespoons oil in a large bowl; season generously with salt, pepper and red pepper flakes. Toss to coat squash evenly.

Transfer to a rimmed baking sheet, spreading out in a single layer, overlapping slightly.

Roast until tender but not mushy, about 15 minutes. Let cool.

Mix mozzarella and next 5 ingredients in a large bowl; season with salt and pepper.

*DO AHEAD Squash and cheese mixture can be made 1 day ahead. Cover separately and chill.

Béchamel and Assembly

1/8 cup organic unsalted butter
1/8 cup whole-wheat pastry flour
2 1/2 cups (or more) organic half-and-half
Dash of freshly grated nutmeg and cinnamon
1 fresh bay leaf
Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper

10 oz Brown Rice Lasagna Noodles (Tinkyada)
3/4 cup finely grated Parmesan

Béchamel and Assembly

Melt butter in a large heavy saucepan over medium heat.

Add flour; stir until slightly thickened (do not allow mixture to turn brown), 2–3 minutes. Increase heat slightly.

Slowly whisk in 2 1/2 cups half-and-half, 1/2-cupful at a time, allowing béchamel to thicken between additions (adding half-and-half gradually will help to prevent lumps from forming).

Add 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg and cinnamon and bay leaf.

Reduce heat to low and cook, thinning with more half-and-half if too thick, until sauce is a milkshake–like consistency, about 10 minutes longer.

Cook lasagna noodles in a pot of well-salted boiling water until still quite al dente, 8–9 minutes. Transfer immediately to a large bowl of ice water to cool. Drain; spread out noodles on a kitchen towel or baking sheets lined with parchment paper, placing a kitchen towel or parchment between layers.

Ladle about 1/4 cup béchamel into a 11x9x2-inch baking dish; spread evenly over bottom. Line dish with a single layer of noodles, cutting as needed to fit (use large scraps in subsequent layers).

Layer 1/3 of squash over.

Scatter brussels sprouts leaves over the previous layer.

Dollop 1/3 of ricotta mixture randomly over greens.

Drizzle 1/2 cup béchamel evenly over ricotta mixture.

Repeat process 2 more times for a Total of 3 layers, finishing with a layer of noodles. Spread remaining béchamel over; top with Parmesan. Leftover noodles can be used for a freeform version with any leftover components.

*DO AHEAD Lasagna can be assembled 1 day ahead. Cover and chill. Return to room temperature before continuing.

Preheat oven to 375°. Bake lasagna uncovered until bubbly and starting to brown, about 45 minutes.

Turn oven to broil. Cook until browned and golden, 4–7 minutes.

Let rest for 20–30 minutes before serving.

No man can taste the fruits of autumn while he is delighting his scent with the flowers of spring. 
-Samuel Johnson

May you taste the fruits of delicious autumn! Bon appétit!

Ushering in Autumn: Chocolate Chip Kuri Squash Cake

September 2012

Behold the Cucurbita maxima!

Aliases: Japanese SquashOrange Hokkaido SquashBaby Red Hubbard Squash, Uchiki Kuri Squash or simply Red Kuri Squash (I like the “Hubbard” option because it makes me think Old Mother Hubbard lived in a squash).

This brightly colored squash boasts a bold, sweet, nutty flavor. Unlike its more famed Jack-o-Lantern relation, which requires an arsenal of spices to accent its flavor, you can take a delicious bite of red kuri squash right after roasting (with a smidgeon of butter of course). With such a strong flavor, red kuri squash makes a great addition to autumnal recipes at both the sweet and savory ends of the spectrum.   Since my tooth swings sweet, my first kuri squash recipe of the season happened to be a cake for the sake of brunch. Since I could eat maple syrup everyday and have an affinity for bourbon, those elements conveniently found their way into the recipe as well.

Note: This cake will not last long! Even when my sole mission was to take a picture of the cake, I found myself slicing a piece and enjoying it with a cup of tea.

Chocolate Chip Kuri Cake
w/ Maple Glaze & Bourbon Whipped Cream

Ingredients

2 cups organic whole-wheat pastry flour
1 cup organic brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 Tablespoon fresh grated ginger

2 cups organic kuri squash, roasted and puréed
3 eggs (local/free-range)
2 Tablespoons organic molasses
1/4 cup olive oil

1/2 cup pecans, chopped
3/4 cup organic chocolate chips

For the Cake

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

Oil the bottom and sides of an 8-inch springform pan (or use a similar sized square or round pan).

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, sea salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger.

In a large bowl, mix squash, eggs, olive oil, and molasses until well blended. Add the dry ingredients and mix just until thoroughly combined.

Stir in the pecans and chocolate chips.

Transfer the batter into prepared pan and bake for 50-55 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes before using a knife to loosen the sides of the pan, then removing it.

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Maple Glaze

Ingredients

1 cup pure maple syrup

Directions

While the cake is cooling, cook 1 cup maple syrup over heat for 7-8 minutes, or until it thickens/reduces slightly. Let it cool slightly, then drizzle over the cake. Serve warm or at room temperature (the maple glaze will harden as it cools).

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Bourbon Whipped Cream

Ingredients

1 cup organic heavy cream
1 Tablespoon pure vanilla extract
2 Tablespoons pure maple syrup
2-3 Tablespoons bourbon

For the Whipped Cream

Combine all the ingredients except the bourbon in a chilled bowl. Use an electric mixer to whip until peaks form. Add the bourbon and mix to incorporate. Keep chilled until ready to serve.

Ushering in Autumn: Harvest Nests

September 2012

When I was a college lass in the architecture program, I designed a home that had to respond to a steep grade, a wooded landscape and the phases of a couple’s life from the first child to retirement. My initial concept was a series of connected nests representing isolated aspects of daily life- eating, sleeping, resting, etc. Whether or not I was too obsessed with bird metaphors (lovebirds, keeping the nest warm, planning for a nest egg, etc), the design veered through the course of the  semester. However, my fascination with nature-inspired design led me to discover a branch of architecture called Biomimicry.

A Thought Project…

Biomimicry’s prophet is Michael Pawlyn, who elaborates on the concept in his TED talk. Pawylyn asks, “How can architects build a new world of sustainable beauty?” His answer and the mission of biomimicry is to use nature as a design tool to radically increase resource efficiency, use waste from one organism as a nutrient for another organism, and move from a fossil fuel economy to a solar one. What does that look like?

Maybe like a nest?

A Play Project…

Inspiring architects and designers (and more importantly, the people with the money) to shift their paradigm will take time. In the meantime, one can’t truly debate the issues and innovations of the world without a proper breakfast. Call me old fashioned! Why not have a little fun channeling nature for your breakfast or brunch spread? Here I go with nests again…

Though these nests might not mimic the more intricate systems of a real nest, they do channel elements of sustainability via local and organic ingredients. They also fueled the movers and shakers who attended this brunch to usher in autumn. These nests are blank canvases, so use what’s in season and flavorful and have fun!

Harvest Nests Recipe

Ingredients

12 slices organic honey wheat sandwich bread
3 tablespoons organic unsalted butter (melted)
1 ear of local corn
1 small local squash, roasted, cut into chunks
Fresh local sage, chopped
12 large eggs (local/free-range)
Salt & Pepper, to taste

Directions

Preheat oven to 375° F.

Lightly butter 12 standard-size muffin cups.

Flatten each bread slice with a rolling pin.

Insert flattened bread slices into muffin cups so they fit snuggly.

Brush melted butter over each bread cup.

Add a chunk or 2-3 small chunks of squash, a few kernels of corn and a few pieces of sage to each cup.

Crack one egg into each cup.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until egg white is set (be careful not to overbake it).

Remove from muffin pan and serve!

From Decor to Dinner: A Happy Harvest Tale

September 2012

There once was an occasion that called for a celebration, and that celebration became a dream. The harmonies of a violin and an accordeon filled the air. Candles flickered by a little stream. A lantern illuminated a docked rowboat. Fabrics fluttered in the breeze. Mingling created a pleasant hum. Plates of tiny delicacies were passed, and a little boxcar became a cafe with fancy cappuccinos and little desserts. It was a party I planned with a friend, and it was unlike anything we had ever created before.

The theme was a saltwater soiree, but the backdrop was the changing colors of fall. In a nod to the season, little squashes and gourds adorned the tables. The intention was for guests to add the fall offerings to their own gardens and tables, but some of the squashes were neglected in the end. As the seasons progressed toward winter, the squashes and gourds were set aside, ignored while they sat sadly in a corner of the yard. When the frost finally cleared, the little squashes were still standing, and one green-thumbed girl had a stroke of inspiration. She threw the neglected squashes into the dirt.

The days grew longer, and the sunlight stronger until summer was in full swing.

That’s when the abandoned decor became a happy harvest tale. The squashes emerged as a beautiful example of resilience.

Those sunny summer days began to change once again. It was time to think about roasting and pureeing and pie making.

The rest of this happy tale continued in various homes, where the colleagues each used the squashes to their liking. The sweet, little sun golds, however, never made it past the garden. They were too sweet and delicious to resist!

The end!

ps: Party photos by Adam Milliron.

…And The Foie Ran Away With The Spoon (Pittsburgh, PA)

September 2012

If my special one were a spoon, and I were a dish, I’d definitely run away with him (even though he’s a lot faster than I will ever be)! I’d run away with him because he makes me laugh until my laugh becomes a high pitched gasp for air; he always sees the positive side; he is a very “special” dancer; he is smart beyond his years, and because he is the perfect dinner companion (just to name a few reasons)! He’s always eager to share our meals, and he patiently waits while I fiddle with f-stops. In short, he is the best, and I am the luckiest! Though it may be too sappy for some, we celebrate our anniversary each month, and what better way to celebrate than with a shared meal! For the September installment of our swooning, we chose a place that was new for both of us, as well as long overdue for both of us: Spoon.

I was pleasantly surprised to discover Spoon has a small courtyard area, but unfortunately, I was way too chilled to partake in the courtyard experience. As such, I was less impressed with the intentional formality of the interior. A wash of beige and dim lighting does not automatically equate to fine dining and masked the more unique furniture accents in a curtain of drab. Fortunately, the food delivered more than just a display of formality.

We began our meal with two cocktails. I opted for the smokey hints of Laphroaig, but I also sipped heavily from the bubbly bourbon. Both cocktails exhibited what I view as a quality blend- a distinction of the various flavor parts of the whole.

Vancouver in a Glass
Famous Grouse Scotch, Tupelo honey, lemon, ginger, Laphroaig Single Malt Scotch

5 O’clock Shadow
Averna amaro, Buffalo Trace bourbon, mint, lime, demerara sugar, ginger beer

The Bread Basket
Cornbread and chive biscuit

Duck Two Ways
Crispy confit cake, duck liver mousse, grilled peaches, balsamic reduction

The bread basket at Spoon shows an extra level of dedication with its cornmeal and biscuit offerings. Though well prepared, Duck Two Ways may be just a little more fattened duck than one should eat in one sitting.

Roasted Local Corn Soup
Butter poached Maine lobster, forest mushroom + sweet corn saute, tarragon creme fraiche

The combination of sweet corn, tangy creme fraiche, meaty mushrooms and lobster is the perfect harvest harmony!

Pork Two Ways
Grilled tenderloin, braised pork, Anson Mills white cheddar polenta, corn + zucchini + tomato saute, caramelized figs, port reduction

I usually find it difficult to be excited about pork tenderloin, so I was skeptical. My special one prevailed, and I was glad he did. The two porks combined with equal contributions of flavor and a contrast of texture. There is nothing bland about Spoon’s tenderloin.

Crispy Skin Skuna Bay Salmon 
chorizo stuffed pattypan squash, olive oil poached cherry tomatoes, creamed corn, mushroom + eggplant puree, blistered tomato reduction

Housemade Ice Cream

Corn! Bright, yellow, corn ice cream! If you’ve been with these grains before, you know this is something I’ve already thought about quite a bit, so I was eager to try another ice creamier’s version (as far as I know, I just made up the term ice creamier). Sweet corn in every frozen bite! I loved it, but after all, my genealogy resembles a cornstalk more than a tree. Hurry to Spoon, and try a scoop for yourself!

All in All

Was it a great anniversary dinner?
Absolutely!

Did Spoon live up to the hype?
I salute Spoon’s commitment to local purveyors, and I recommend the food and the drinks, but the overall experience? Though it may seem like pure pickiness, the beige and forced formality of the dining room really dimmed my desire to return. The demographic of people who appreciate good food is not limited to a class of diners who flaunt their wealth via boring blazers and snide behaviors, so why cater to those types in design? No, I’m not saying every restaurant has to be clad in reclaimed barn wood (though I do love reclaimed barn wood!), but the bounds of restaurant design could use a push.

What do you think?

Happiness, Wolf Shirts & My New Favorite Place (Marty’s Market, Pittsburgh)

September 2012

Lately, I’ve found my interest piqued by the topic of happiness- what is happening in my brain when I am experiencing happiness? Or conversely, what is happening in my brain to incite my feeling of happiness? I found the most approachable answers to my questions via an article by Josh Clark, of How Stuff Works, entitled What is the Neurochemistry of Happiness?

When stimulated, a series of regions in the brain associated with the release of pleasure-inducing chemicals are activated. At the center of the system is the nucleus accumbens, [which] is responsible for characteristics we associate with feelings of happiness, like laughter and euphoria. The nucleus accumbens gets what you might call fuel for pleasurable sensations from the ventral tegmental area (VTA), which responds to pleasurable sensation signals from the cerebral cortex. The VTA floods the nucleus accumbens and other regions in the system with the neurotransmitter dopamine, a hormone associated with pleasure. Other regions of the brain complete the reward system and reveal the purpose of not only the reward center, but also perhaps the basis of happiness itself. 

Why bombard this typically science-free corner of the blogosphere with a lesson on the brain?

Allow me to elaborate:

When I arrive at this bright green corner of Pittsburgh’s historical Strip District, my VTA floods my nucleus accumbens and other regions in my system with the neurotransmitter dopamine, and the hormone causes me to feel positive emotions. These unseen reactions result in a look observers would classify as “stupid bliss.” My eyes widen; my facial muscles engage to communicate the universal signal for happiness; my eyes gloss a bit, and I stare dreamily at my surroundings. The stimulus in this scenario, the stimulus which renders my face so happy as to be nearly unrecognizable by close friends and coworkers, is Marty’s Market.

Marty’s Market is a new, community-oriented store offering local and organic fares, a carefully sourced coffee bar and a seasonally inspired cafe. That combination alone would make me smile, but what floods my brain with happiness “fuel” is the careful attention to detail and quality apparent in every aspect of that combination.

One of those details is the design of the space. Owner Regina Koetters transformed the former, rather sterile Right By Nature grocery  space into a very modern and open atmosphere. The DIY and vintage touches are worthy of your favorite design blog’s reportings. The garage doors, the gentle breezes, the natural light, the swaying plants and the outdoor seating transport patrons to sunnier, more progressive cities with higher vitamin D offerings in their forecasts.

Marty’s is an example of the bar raising in Pittsburgh. It’s not just a grocery store, nor is it just a business with hints of an environmental conscious. Marty’s Market is fostering a community and curating an experience, and their eyes are set on continued improvement, which is why those eyes see this happy face quite a bit [my next brain research session might need to investigate obsessions]!

One of my first visits (which resulted in several subsequent visits in a very short span of time), happened to coincide with “Wolf Shirt Friday.” What is “Wolf Shirt Friday?” you might ask. It’s exactly what it sounds like, and it all began when one friend and visionary graced our first and only basketball game with his Niagara Falls souvenir. The rest is a history howled at the moon, and on one such Friday, the howling trio went to Marty’s for a less scientifically analytical and more instinctual approach to happiness.

On the table for that particular visit was…

Grilled Zucchini & Goat Cheese Baguette sandwich
BLT with Niman Ranch’s all natural bacon and heirloom tomatoes on whole wheat
Grilled Peach & Blue Cheese salad
Pulled pork with Rufus Teague’s honey sweet BBQ sauce, cheddar cheese and pickle chips (I order this almost every time I go)

Marty’s coffee bar reminds me of Tartine Bakery in San Francisco, where an awarded bakery and top caliber coffee bar combine in one delicious and crowded space. This begs the question why aren’t more eateries offering really great coffee options? With the requisite free wifi, Marty’s very well could become your public, caffeinated office space, competing in my book with Espresso A Mano and Commonplace Coffee for quality of craft and well designed spaces.

I typically shy away from syrups, but when a vanilla syrup is made in house and boasts flecks of a vanilla pod, I can easily be convinced otherwise. My staple mug at Marty’s is the vanilla-infused latte, but I’m also impressed the menu includes the perfect little drink known as the cortado.

Marty’s by Morn

It was only a matter of time until we arrived for a Chef’s Breakfast, offered on weekends until 11am.

Brioche French Toast w/ Cinnamon Butter
Harvest Omelette w/ Roasted Potatoes and Griddled Bread

A friend recommended the omelette (which I only hint at here photographically) and dubbed it, “the world’s fluffiest omelette.” With a bit of skepticism, we followed his recommendation, which did in fact reveal the world’s fluffiest omelette brimming with a local corn so sweet it could be a dessert. As for the French toast, the standard breakfast offering is deceptively simple, but once you take a bite of the fluffy brioche slathered with the cinnamon butter, you’ll know why I dream of this French toast on weekend mornings.

In Conclusion…

The same article on happiness states, “During a reward response, the prefrontal cortex also activates; this focuses the individual’s attention and ultimately conditions the person to repeat the task that led to this reward.” In my case, my Marty’s induced happiness has now reached a conditioned state. The market has quickly become one of my Pittsburgh favorites. I strongly hope more Pittsburghers find the same level of happiness there and support such an endeavor, for our dollars are our votes, and it’s time to keep the bar raised! See you there soon… and don’t forget your wolf shirt!

Neon & Nature: Party at the Pier 2012

September 2012

For a city whose identity is branded partly by its rivers, experiencing a Pittsburgh riverside often requires extra effort, so I was excited to learn about the Pittsburgh Riverlife Group. Their mission is “to reclaim, restore and promote Pittsburgh’s riverfronts as the environmental, recreational, cultural and economic hub for the people of this region and visitors.” I was even more excited to attend the “Party at the Pier” fundraiser to see Riverlife put their mission into action (you may recall my giveaway to this event).

The Rivers Casino amphitheater truly came alive with both elements of the theme “Neon and Nature.” Bands played, neon clad guests mingled, and the Gateway Clipper cruised the river. The culmination of the party was the neon lit amphitheater, which enabled guests to take in the full scene of the party and the riverside. My special one and I were quite content to sit, sip our wine and people watch. Do you think we were neon enough?

A series of monochromatic, neon lit tents led to the green glow of the food tent. The menu featured an array of miniature delicacies on bamboo platters and tiny desserts. The chefs from the Rivers Casino prepared the menu and  sourced many of their ingredients locally. A few examples from the spread:

Yellow, red and white gazpacho shooters
Seared Lamb Loin with braised white beans, bacon, golden raisin, pine nuts and mint
Grilled corn with chipotle mayo, cojita cheese and lime zest 

It wouldn’t be a Pittsburgh event without a fireworks display…

It was a night unlike the rest, a brightly colored break from the normal city offerings, and hopefully that night will lead to more riverside endeavors. Let’s all stay tuned for more developments from Riverlife!

A Farmers Market Stroll (Washington DC)

September 2012

When I am traveling rather aimlessly, I often stumble upon a farmers market. I find myself strolling through the aisles, imagining what I’d buy and what I’d make if I lived in one of the beautiful townhomes or cottages or enviable apartments just yonder. So it was I came to wander through peaches, surprising squashes and bold flowers at a market near Dupont Circle, in Washington DC. Had I not been quite satisfied from my brunch at Birch & Barley, I may have sampled here and there, but alas, this stroll was more about appreciating the still lifes that appear with each new stall of local bounty.

My First Ever Wedding Cake (Part I): Proposals & Preparations

September 2012

Let me tell you about a woman I admire. She is intelligent and dedicated, as exhibited by her collection of degrees from Carnegie Mellon, Oxford, and one PhD from Berkeley in the works. She is disciplined and compassionate, having run multiple marathons for charity. She is sincere. She’s the type of woman who will listen to your woes and give very thoughtful and intelligent advice in return. She wants to make the world a better, more sustainable place. She is creative and talented, and I admire her immensely. Beyond admiration, I have the great fortune to call Renee my friend.

ReneeAndRamseyChristianWeddingImages-1287

Photo by Photographick Studios.

Now let me tell you about a man I know. We used to be neighbors, and he welcomed me to that block of row homes with a glass of wine and a warm heart. He chose to follow creative outlets in his life and put pen to paper in a substantial way.  Ramsey mixes a childlike spirit with an intelligent mind, and he has a way of filling a room with laughter.

Dashing Ramsey

Photo by Photographick Studios.

On one fateful day, these two amazing friends of mine reconnected in my backyard. I knew Ramsey wanted to marry Renee from day one. He couldn’t contain his adoration. It was only a matter of time until Renee saw a life partner in Ramsey as well, and I was so glad to share a small part in such a love story. When the engagement announcement came, I offered my baking efforts in addition to my congratulations. To my utter joy, my two dear friends said they could not think of a better person to bake their wedding cake! So it was I came to fulfill one of my longtime goals for two very dear people, and this is how that cake began.

Renee and Ramsey were the perfect pair for my wedding cake philosophies. They both truly value whole, natural ingredients, and they left the cake details to my creativity. It was a dream experience! I chose a vanilla pound cake accented with flavors of amaretto, brandy, rum and whiskey! I added a peach compote featuring local peaches to appeal to the couple’s love of local, seasonal ingredients. Since Renee and Ramsey are avid wine drinkers, and the wedding setting was a winery, I used a red and white wine combo for the compote. I was pretty nervous about the cake, but most people went back for seconds and supported me so enthusiastically. The memory still fills me with happiness! Thank you again to this beautiful couple for including me in your festivities!

Renee & Ramsey Wedding Cake Recipe
(cut everything in half if you’re not aiming for a 3-tiered wedding cake)

Vanilla Pound Cake
adapted from Cake Love
Makes 3 layers

Dry Ingredients

5 3/4 cups whole-wheat pastry flour
2 Tablespoons Potato Starch
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Liquid Ingredients

2 cups (16 oz) Sour Cream (from local dairy)
½ cup local heavy cream (from local dairy)
1/2 cup Brandy
2 Tablespoons Amaretto
2 Tablespoons rum
3 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3 teaspoons whiskey

Creaming Ingredients

1 lb (16 oz)- organic, unsalted butter, at room temp
6 cups raw sugar

10 Large Eggs (local/free-range)
2 Yolks (local/free-range)

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Combine all the dry ingredients and whisk to incorporate.

In a separate bowl combine all the liquid ingredients and whisk to combine.

Combine the butter and sugar and use an electric mixer to cream together on the lowest speed for 2-3 minutes.

Add the eggs one at a time followed by the yolk, fully incorporating after each addition. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.

Add the dry ingredients alternately with the liquid mixture in 3-5 additions, beginning and ending with the dry mixture.

Move swiftly to avoid over mixing the batter. Scrape down the bowl and then mix for 20 seconds to fully incorporate.

Spray your pan (loaf, bundt,etc) with nonstick spray and then fill 3/4 of the way up with the batter.

Bake a 10” springform pan for 50-55 minutes and smaller muffin size loafs for 15 minutes.

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Classic Buttercream
Makes 5 cups

Ingredients

2 cups unsalted butter (4 sticks or 1 pound), softened (but not melted!) Ideal texture should be like ice cream.
6-8 cups confectioners (powdered) sugar, SIFTED
1/2 teaspoon table salt
2 Tablespoons vanilla extract
up to 8 Tablespoons milk or heavy cream

Instructions

Beat butter for a few minutes with a mixer with the paddle attachment on medium speed.

Add 3 cups of powdered sugar and turn your mixer on the lowest speed (so the sugar doesn’t blow everywhere) until the sugar has been incorporated with the butter.

Increase mixer speed to medium and add vanilla extract, salt, and 2 tablespoons of milk/cream and beat for 3 minutes.

If your frosting needs a more stiff consistency, add remaining sugar. If your frosting needs to be thinned out, add remaining milk 1 tablespoons at a time.

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Peach Pinot Compote

Ingredients

10 cups fresh peaches, skinned and quartered
1 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice
2 cups white wine
3 Tbsp. brown sugar

1 cup red wine
1 1/2 Tablespoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Pinch of ground cinnamon

Directions

In a medium saucepan, combine the peaches, sugar, lemon juice, cinnamon and 2 cups of the white wine. Mix well. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat.

Cover, reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes.

Stir together the cornstarch and the 1 cup of red wine.

Raise the heat so that the liquid in the pan begins to boil.

Add the cornstarch mixture and stir for 1 minute, or until the liquid thickens and becomes clear.

Transfer to a serving bowl and add the vanilla.

Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.

Can be served on cake, on pudding or with whipped toppings.

Market Table Bistro

A Little Lunch in Lovettsville (Market Table Bistro)

August 2012

The road typically offers made-to-order sandwich menus ending forcibly in Z sounds, but occasionally, the road can bring a pleasant surprise. On an August wander to a special wedding, lunch was a case of the latter, thanks to Market Table Bistro.

An antique store is what initially pulled us off our path. A little meander through farmlands put us in front of a plate of deviled eggs, with pickled fixins’ and little snappy pea shoots(?), set against the backdrop of a quaint and quiet town.

In the spirit of the south, we ordered the catfish sandwich with roasted potatoes, but the real winner- no surprise here- was the pulled pork! I find it hard to resist pulled pork, especially from a lunch spot that has close ties to local purveyors.

Market Table Bistro boasted an interior reminiscent of a New England cottage with its slate blue walls, stone fireplaces and white accents. However, we were intent on enjoying the last bits of August on their large patio. Had we not been basking in the sunlight, we may have sampled the early signs of fall in the soup du jour.

Should you not have a bride awaiting your arrival, do take some time to sit on the bistro’s rocking chairs near their raised beds of herbs and vegetables, but as for us, we had other places to be. All in all, Market Table Bistro was a pleasant surprise, and we were quite grateful for steering off course.

[It Really Was Quite] Outstanding In The Field (Part II)

August 2012

In “[It Really Was Quite] Outstanding In The Field” Part I, I focused more on the “what” behind Outstanding in the Field. The concept, the experience and the fully formed menu is so grand that one can forget momentarily the most important part: the why. The “why” is the farmer, the grower of the ingredients that inspire the chefs, who in turn inspire diners. In this case of farm-to-table eating, Blackberry Meadows was the farm of the hour!

For many of my peers and myself, we followed the established routes through life that were supposed to result in success and happiness, only to discover a lot of hype and intense questions- is this what we were supposed to do with our lives? With these questions, we have asked what is passion? What does it mean? What is my passion? Can my passion be my livelihood? What inspired me the most about this particular Sunday was the passion emanating from our hosts and farmers, Jen and Greg, who stood before us and humbly offered their story.

Both Jen and Greg came from suburban backgrounds, the type of upbringing that leads to locking doors and a moderate mistrust of everyone. When they decided to turn their interests in sustainability into a farming endeavor, a very different type of community awaited them. Blackberry Meadows Farm was one of the first, certified-organic farms in the area, and its pervious owners had been influential in many of the farmers markets and Slow Food endeavors in Pittsburgh. They mentored the couple, and they fostered a relationship between the novice farmers and their community sponsors.

After the first growing season, those same sponsors showed how strong their support was for Jen and Greg. The members of the CSA offered to help the couple financially, as they implemented their business model to pay off the farm. The overwhelming show of support proved to the couple the importance of their community, and they continue to return the commitment wholeheartedly.

Each week Jen and Greg greet their CSA members in person. They do not believe in anonymous drop-offs or dictating what a subscription contains. If a client wants a bigger squash, they offer him or her a bigger squash! Each Tuesday, the couple and interns do the bulk of their harvesting and then share a family-style meal together. For many students or young adults, this is a rare opportunity to share in a communal meal. The creation of the bread oven was another grand gesture to the community. They built the oven on the principle of Alan Scott, who started a system in which those who have built a bread oven become mentors for future builders.

Even in discussing hurdles and challenges, the couple was positive and enthusiastic. Their commitment to the land, to the community and to future generations was so palpable and inspiring. After sharing in their inspiration, we wandered through their field, to the long tables with linens and china and ate a meal like no other!

Extra Special Thanks To The Growers & Foragers :

Jen Montgomery & Greg Boulos (& Little Evelyn!)
Blackberry Meadows Farm
Natrona, PA

Briar Valley Vineyard & Winery
Bedford, PA

Cavan & Tom Patterson
Wild Purveyors
Pittsburgh, PA

John Greasy
Garfield Community Farm
Pittsburgh, PA

And of course, thanks to all the chefs, food slingers and planners behind this event!

[It Really Was Quite] Outstanding in the Field! (Part I)

August 2012

In the foodie world, a chef’s name can carry the weight of a Hollywood celebrity. There’s an awe, mystique and fascination with those who are changing food scenes, tweeting their menus, gracing magazine spreads and most importantly, feeding us their finest. When one of those innovative and highly regarded chefs takes to the road, partners with farms and offers some of the most beautiful and authentic farm-to-table meals possible, the fan following escalates to that of a touring band.

After I first learned about Outstanding in the Field (through this beautiful blog post on Roost), I became one of the adoring groupies, routinely checking the tour dates and locations. I nearly flew myself to Florida, so great was my obsession. However, fate and luck and a chef named  Justin Severino intervened, and I finally had the long awaited opportunity to attend an event close to my Pittsburgh home.

[Outstanding in the Field's] mission is to re-connect diners to the land and the origins of their food, and to honor the local farmers and food artisans who cultivate it.

Outstanding in the Field is a roving culinary adventure – literally a restaurant without walls. Since 1999 we have set the long table at farms or gardens, on mountain tops or in sea caves, on islands or at ranches. Occasionally the table is set indoors: a beautiful refurbished barn, a cool greenhouse or a stately museum. Wherever the location, the consistent theme of each dinner is to honor the people whose good work brings nourishment to the table.

Ingredients for the meal are almost all local (sometimes sourced within inches of your seat at the table!) and generally prepared by a celebrated chef of the region. After a tour of the site, we all settle in: farmers, producers, culinary artisans, and diners sharing the long table.

The site of the magical meal was Blackberry Meadows Farm, a real work of love by farmers Jen Montgomery and Greg Boulos (and wee little farmerette Evelyn). The couple’s introduction and tour of the farm was truly moving. They are committed to community and future generations, as exhibited by their communal, brick oven and the trees they planted that will reach their real grandeur long past their children’s time.

Ella the cow under her umbrella…ella…ella…

The Plate Tradition

OITF added a personal touch to the meal through this tradition. Participants were encouraged to bring a plate and add it to the pile. The plates then appeared at the field where the seemingly, never-ending tables were located. Diners could pick any plate from the burlap pile, adding a more communal element to the dining experience as textures and patterns rekindled memories of our own kitchens or other dining tables of note.

As the event kicked off, we lingered near the farm house for starters, drinks, mingling and a history of Outstanding in the Field from artist and founder Jim Denevan and lead cohort Leah Scafe.

I wish my childhood had been filled with this version of “dirt” rather than that gummy worm and chocolate pudding version (sorry to spoil your childhood memories if you hold “dirt” near and dear, but after prepping a batch with a bunch of grubby, VBS kids and their dirty, grubby fingers dipping into the bowl, my memories of that dessert still feel funny and are less than fond…tangential rant concluded). Chef David Racicot, of Notion, really embraced the farm dinner theme with this playful hors d’oeuvre of roasted and dehydrated baby carrots emerging from edible “dirt.”

Ceramic bowls and fresh blackberries would later appear as the clafoutis to close out the meal. Oddly enough, even though the blackberries were locally sourced, they were not sourced from the namesake farm. Apparently, the farm was named (several owners ago) for the wild blackberries that grow in the fields, which require more sugar than its worth to counter their tart flavor.

From the field plate to the table plate…

Heirloom tomatoes atop red and yellow gazpacho with parmesan foam and fresh herbs.

When heirloom tomatoes are the source of a gazpacho’s flavor, one cannot let said gazpacho go to waste, even when in the company of new acquaintances. I call this one “And God Shined Upon The Gazpacho..,” which is to say, Cavan Patterson, of Wild Purveyors, made the right decision. He was a real champ!

Melon Salad
cucumber, garden flowers, red miso, coconut, mint, basil, jalapeño, nori

Chef Kevin Sousa (Salt of the Earth, Union Pig & Chicken, Station Street Hot Dogs) used liquid nitrogen to freeze the melons in this salad, which added a crisp, refreshing, textural contrast to the light greens and flowers, whereas a regular piece of fruit would have added too much water or mushiness on a hot, farm day.

As one would expect, Chef Justin Severino (Cure) prepared quite the impressive salumi spread garnished with violet, saffron and dijon mustards.

Though it’s easy to envy founder Jim Denevan’s role, it was clear this labor of love required a lot of persistance and passion to launch and grow to the whirlwind tour it is today. We Pittsburghers are quite lucky to live in the same city as Chef Justin Severino, who was instrumental in putting Blackberry Meadows Farm on the event schedule. Jim also declared Justin to be his favorite chef. Coming from a man who travels and eats the best the country has to offer for a living, that is not a praise to be taken lightly.

Roast* Chicken
chanterelles, bacon, tallegio

* roasted in the farmers’ communal brick oven!

Lamb Belly & Sweetbreads
green beans, potato, black garlic

The plates cleared, the candles appeared, the lights flickered, and the laughter grew in volume until finally, we applauded all efforts tremendously and meandered into the night. My work here will have been done should you read this and become one of the OITF groupies! Perhaps we shall meet in a field soon?

Food Blogger Dinner at The Porch (Schenley Park, Pittsburgh)

August 2012

My number one regret about my apartment is the lack of outdoor space, so I was excited to learn about a newer, Pittsburgh restaurant named “The Porch.” I was even more excited to learn the name was no misnomer. The restaurant does indeed boast an extensive porch bordering Schenely Park, as well as a large interior. More importantly, The Porch supports many local, agricultural resources.

My opportunity to sit on said porch finally arrived when the Pittsburgh Restaurant Week planners hosted a Food Blogger Dinner. The goal of the summer installment of restaurant week was to highlight food and restaurants through fine dining, fresh harvests and outdoor seating. The goal in incorporating the local food bloggers was to gather and thank those of us who enthusiastically support the city’s growing food scene. Thus, the meal at The Porch also included a few perks.

For starters, we heard from Jamie Moore (left) who works with both the Eat’n Park Hospitality Group and PASA (the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture) to promote and source local agriculture. Jamie spends a lot of time visiting farms and restaurants in the region and facilitating the connections between the two. His interest in sustainable farming really took hold when he married into a dairy farm and started to learn more about the world of a smaller scale farm. Chef Kevin Hermann (right) followed and spoke about the restaurant’s careful attention to food sourcing from its rooftop garden and honeybees to its in-house butchering of local cows. He’s personally involved at all levels from gardening, to butchering to cooking, and he loves every step of the process! Apparently, the only thing he doesn’t really love is sleeping a lot.

Blueberry-Lavender Smash
Featuring Wigle Whiskey and rooftop rosemary

You wanna talk about a cocktail maaaade for porch sippin’? Why would you want to talk about it when you could actually sip one?!?

Even though there was a spell of rain, we were all dry and content on the porch. The rain even added to the scene, as the park began to sparkle with little puddles and water droplets in the returning sunlight.

Keystone Farm Beef Tartare
w/ wild flowers, capers, picholine olives and tomato gastrique

This was 4-star tartare!

The most exciting aspect of the Food Blogger event was the rooftop garden tour! The rooftop is host to herbs, vegetables, flowers and even bumblebees, set against the urban and whimsical backdrop of the city and park respectively.

(The Cathedral of Learning)

Arriving solo to a dinner event can be a little nerve-wracking, but I was fortunate to be seated at a great table! The conversation flowed comfortably from course to course, and I’d love for a repeat with these ladies.  The surprise seating arrangement enabled me to meet the reading, kid-wrangler you might know as Beezus Kiddo, her friend who was along for the experience and Ali of Cheaterbites. We even managed to talk about topics other than food!

Cunningham Farm Pork Saltimbocca
w/wild sage, “Porch” prosciutto, rooftop tomatoes, sweet corn & heirloom beans

One of the perks of eating locally-sourced foods is the increase in flavor, since the food item was picked as close to the time of need as possible. The freshness and preservation of flavor was definitely true of the accent herbs and vegetables in this entree. I was slightly disappointed by the choice to offer this entree as the main course for a food blogger event. I have made a version of this myself, and it’s the type of recipe one would find in the “Quick Meals To Make During The Week” section of a cooking magazine. This is not to say I do not appreciate simplicity, but I would have preferred to see more of the chef’s chops than pork chops. Oh the puns! How they floweth so poorly!

Chocolate-Blueberry Pie
w/ sweet cream and hazelnut brittle

When Chef Kevin described the menu, he was especially enthusiastic about the dessert. “[My goal wasn't to come up here and rave about how good of a pastry chef I am, but today, I made a really good pie!]” He was right! The chocolate and blueberry combination doesn’t happen often, and this little pie made me wonder why? It was a creative and delicious finale, and slowly we made our way from the warmly lit dining room into the glow of street lights and city life.

What excites me most about the prospect of returning to The Porch is how intertwined the changes in the season and the menu will be. I imagine eating a hot squash soup on the porch as the weather requires a sweater or watching the snow collect on the many window frames while enjoying a heartier creation. Though I am a little sorry to have typed the word snow while still dreaming of sundresses. Get to The Porch before this summer is just a memory!

Special thanks to Pittsburgh Restaurant Week for organizing this event and special thanks to my table-mates for being such great dining companions!

Italian BBQ On The Farm, Part II

August 2012

We gathered at White Oak Farm to partake in an Italian BBQ prepared by some of the city’s best Italian chefs, and what left such a lasting impression was the enjoyment those chefs derived from the afternoon. Their antics and laughter made the serene setting, the seemingly infinite table and each exquisite course all the more memorable. Here is what I mean…

Thanks to all involved!

Italian BBQ On The Farm, Part I

August 2012

There once was a Sunday that stretched lazily in the sun like a cat who knows no schedule. It was a Sunday filled with beauty, with the slow meandering path of a tractor in a field, with pillowy clouds changing course, with laughter and clanking glasses. It was the Sunday of an Italian style BBQ, at White Oak Farm.

This was no ordinary Italian BBQ! It was the culinary culmination of some of the city’s best Italian chefs, as envisioned and curated by Justin Severino of Cure. I once praised Justin for creating more than a meal, but rather, for creating an entire dining experience, and this was the epitome of a dining experience.

While peeking around the barn, we met one of the owners of the farm, Tony DiCio, who was as eager to give us a tour as we were to see everything. The farm had been in Tony’s family for generations, and he and his brother had long talked about restoring it. Realizing time would continue to pass them by if they continued to talk about their farm plans, the two proactively began getting to work.

They read a lot. They consulted with farming experts. They did some dirty work. Gradually, the farm became what we were seeing on that beautiful Sunday, and it was a lot to see! From the antique farm equipment slated for restoration, to the chickadees, to the horse in its own small barn, to the lake and quiet opening in the trees, the farm had so clearly been born again with a thoughtful passion and a history to share. Soon the farm will be sharing its produce as well. Keep an eye on the local food scene for ingredients from White Oak Farm. Many of them have already been enjoyed at Cure.

(Appropriately for my thematics, the above vintage beauty is a grain separator!)

Walking around that farm made me question my need for urban spaces and busyness. Tony has the advantage of alternating New York and the farm as his home bases. The combination of extremes struck me as ideal! We talked about the importance of slowing down to re-evaluate and recharge, a topic that has been on my mind a lot lately. He described the farm’s revitalizing effect in his own work. Each time he stayed there, he developed a new focus in his return to his busier, business life. Sign me up!

Walking up the stone driveway, into the grassy field, and finally, to this table, provide so many details to behold! I was so excited by the beauty of that table that I nearly failed to eat some of the starters, but I quickly regained my food focus.

I can’t thank Justin Severino (pictured above) enough for inspiring this event, which combined the talents and efforts of so many people. It was a truly memorable meal with a very palpable energy from the chefs and in return, respect from their diners. Rather than dissect the menu, I am structuring this post much like my own experience. I read over the menu initially, but once the food started coming to the table, I just took it in with my senses (and of course with my camera as well). Hence, what follows is a visual delight rather than a course-by-course review! Believe me, each course was impressive and need not be dissected!

The Menu

Reception
Salumi & Negronies
[where there is a Justin Severino, there is surely a Negroni]

Heirloom Tomato Salad
w/ Pine Nut Brittle & Balsamic
Wine Pairing

Grigliata di Mare
2010 Bisson Bianchetta Genovese
“U Pastine” Liguria

Pizza A La Griglia
2010 Monteforche
“Lo Sfuso di Collina”
Cabernet Franc Veneto

Pork Belly
Coenoebium “Rusticum”
Lazio Bianco, Central Italy

BBQ Brisket
2000 Calabretta Etna Rosso Sicily

Watermelon & Olive Oil Cake
2004 La Stoppa “Vigne del Volta”
Malvasia Passito Emiglia Romagna

Do you spy little green spears? Those were sea asparagus, and they tasted like little baby asparagus spears! I have to admit, after an all too vividly textured octopus eating experience in Spain, I was hesitant to try those purple tentacles atop the sea asparagus, but I quickly found myself converted! I didn’t feel as though I was eating an octopus (if you ate what I ate in Spain, this statement makes sense), and the combination of flavor and texture worked! Bravo Michele, you sold me on eating octopus!

These two pictures sum up what I appreciated the most about this bbq event. I had anticipated an amazing meal and to be in awe of the setting, but I was pleasantly surprised to feel so inspired by the chefs. What impressed me the most about this experience was the camaraderie, the antics and the overall enjoyment the chefs derived from sharing their craft in a rustic and somewhat challenging fashion.

Thanks to all the chefs involved! I also walked away from this experience with the inspiration to visit the restaurants I had yet to try.

Justin Severino, of Cure
Sam Di Battista, of Vivo
Michele Savoia, of Dish Osteria
Domenic Branduzzi, of Piccolo Forno
Stephen Felder, of Stagioni

And thanks to the fellas of Bar Marco for orchestrating the libations!

By the time the brisket arrived at the table, my camera had called it quits, so I had to pull from the talents of my pal Alex Mohamed to show you just how deliciously this meal ended…

This was by far one of the most memorable meals I have ever experienced. The hours passed without us knowing, and we all left feeling mentally lighter, happier and more relaxed. It was ideal, and I am tremendously grateful I had the chance to share in this event.

One Last Note…

Stay tuned for more Justin Severino/Cure events and be sure to keep updated on the Cure website so you too can join beautiful food festivities such as this. Also, check out Adam Milliron’s photos from the event on the Cure Facebook page. I could look through his photos for hours! You might even spy yours truly in front of the camera for a change.

From Pig to Plate: Hog Butchering Demo at Cure Restaurant (Pittsburgh, PA)

July 2012

To my father, a “vegetarian diet” is what you feed a cow. Hence, I was reared on animal protein. Though I had a very brief stint in the meatless world, I am of the conscientious omnivore persuasion. As part of that adjective, it’s important to come to terms with what it means to eat meat. Once one takes the slightest peek into the meat industry, a priority on local food sourcing is a very logical next step.

In addition to my interests in new local food scenes, one of my food goals for the year is to better understand cuts of meat. Fortunately, Pittsburgh Chef Justin Severino provided me with an opportunity to eat local food and learn more about the food I was eating! As part of the ever creative line up of Sunday events, Justin offered a Hog Butchering Demo.

Before a cleaver was ever raised, there was a charcuterie spread to remind us of why we had gathered and beer from East End Brewing Company because sometimes the good people want to drink before watching a pig cut into pieces!

One way to get the attention of a large group of eaters and minglers is to drop a huge hog onto a metal table. You will have the entire room’s attention!

The story of hog butchering began with Justin’s own story. Growing up in an Italian family fostered a love of food and gathering around the table. When it was time for him to enter the big, wide world, a career related to food was an obvious choice. His love of cooking first took him to the Pittsburgh Culinary Institute. Then he made the logical foodie mecca to California, where he worked under several great chefs all the while absorbing the culture of sustainable food sourcing. As Justin said, “Californians care about local food like Pittsburghers care about the Steelers.”


Justin’s curiosity about food and sourcing led him to read the standard library and view all the documentaries revealing the truth about mega food industries. Buying food for the various restaurants where he worked meant trips to farmers markets and farms, where he saw a more humane and sustainable system.

Wanting to forge his own path in the food world and support the positive systems he had seen, he opened up his own butcher shop- Severinos Community Butcher, where he butchered whole hogs from local farms. After successfully running the butcher shop, Justin decided to return home to Pittsburgh, and the steel town food scene is ever so grateful for his return! 

Why does Justin butcher his own hogs? A few reasons…

First, Justin butchers whole hogs because no one else is. Much like a painter who stretches his own canvas to enable the vision in his head, Justin takes the time and care to butcher whole hogs so he can cut very specifically for the meats he wants to cure and the meals he wants to create.

Another reason he controls so much of the food process is just that- control. The butchering demo is worth viewing for various reasons, but more than anything, it made me appreciate Justin’s extreme attention to detail. He cuts away any piece that potentially could have come into contact with other hogs or surfaces at the USDA facility (all slaughtered animals must go to a USDA facility first). He does not trust the mega food industry and takes great care to guard the benefits of a selecting a local hog.

The Bonus Reason?

Have you ever lifted a pig? It’s a really great workout!

What does Justin look for in a hog?

Color: Caged, factory-raised pigs will be paler unlike their free-roaming counterparts who will tan in the sun.

Nose ring:  Justin looks for pigs that have not been ringed. Pigs are natural foragers. They root into the ground with their noses to search for food. Factory farms pierce pigs’ noses with metal rings to prevent this habit, since rooting in the unsanitary factory farm environment could lead to illness and disease. This practice causes the animal pain when it tries to perform one of its natural, ingrained tendencies.

Ears: Factory farms clips pigs’ ears to identify them. Free range pigs do not require this cruel practice. 

A Tail: In confined spaces, pigs will bite on each other’s tails. This can lead to infection. To prevent the confrontations, factory farms cut off piglets’ tails.

There are various ways to butcher a hog, and as Justin said, his way is dictated by what he aims to prepare at the restaurant. This is the point in this post in which my butchering insights stop for two reasons:

1. If you live in Pittsburgh, you should attend yourself! Justin’s demo offers an incredible chance to understand our food and food sources better. We even met the farmer from Clarion River Organics who supplied the demo hog. I’m sure he would have had a lot more tidbits to add, but we all excused him early, as he was a very proud new father and needed to be with his brand new baby!

2. I am still very far from being an expert! I wouldn’t mind attending another butchering demo, since Justin offers a wealth of knowledge. I also would attend another butchering demo because of the meal that followed…

Behold the pork belly! It was a work of art!

(Charred radicchio, cherry custard, cherries, lovage)

With fresh, seasonal ingredients, a simple salad begins to compete with the main courses for space on a plate!

Spaghetti Bolognese with Mint

“We’re going to have spaghetti because it’s Sunday,” Justin said, and not a one complained. This was the first time I had mint in my spaghetti, but it will not be the last!

Pork Roast & Green Beans

Risotto

Zucchini and a healthy serving of taleggio cheese

Conclusion…

How often does your meal begin with the farmer who raised your food? How often does the chef take time to prove his food convictions? As always, I’m grateful to Justin for his commitment to creating a food community. We all walked away from our Sunday dinner with a better understanding of the care and detail behind each course. It’s important for chefs like Justin to foster the local food dialogue, but it’s also important for us, as patrons, to vote with our forks and dollars! If you live in Pittsburgh, a visit to Cure not only results in a fantastic meal, but your money feeds into the local economy and supports a more human treatment of the main course. Let me know what you learn!

Fit For A Piquenique: Lemon & Lavender Cake

July 2012

The Pursuit of Lavender:

Lavender: 1
Quelcy: 1!!!

After lavender officially beat me last time, I decided to put on my serious face, and I re-approached the challenge of baking a lavender cake with a new vigor. The issue was sourcing a larger supply of organic lavender. Contrary to the numerous suggestions I received, I wasn’t about to dig in Pittsburgh soil and “borrow” flowers. Pittsburgh was an industrial steel town [read: polluted]! Who knows what’s in most soils here?!? Fortunately, I found a Pittsburgh ally while shopping the vendors at the Farm to Table Conference. My sachet of organic, dried lavender was part of a horticultural therapy program for kids with autism. Suddenly my long pursuit seemed worth the wait!

I found another game changer via Brooklyn: Royal Rose Lavender-Lemon Simple Syrup!  For foodies like me, who are obsessive about sourcing and the ethics of food, Royal Rose comes with quite the guarantee.

Royal Rose promises…

We use only 100% organic, fair trade cane sugar made from evaporated cane juice. We make our syrups by hand, in small batches, using whole ingredients. All of our herbs and spices are organic and fairly traded. Royal Rose sends all of its products to an independent laboratory for analysis to ensure a consistent, high-quality product. We recycle our waste and re-use cardboard boxes. No chemical preservatives, added colors or artificial flavors, ever. We source our ingredients and packaging materials for the highest quality and the best price possible.

This cake was filled with so many good intentions, including my own. I was making it for a relaxing, Sunday brunch with friends. This cake was my Fleatique Piquenique spotlight offering!

Lemon Lavender Almond Cake

Ingredients

1 cup turbinado sugar, divided
1/2 cup slivered almonds
2 Tablespoons dried local lavender flowers, divided
[Next time I’d probably use 3-4 Tbs to push for a real burst of floral flavor)
~2 Tablespoons lemons zest (from two organic lemons)

1 cup organic butter, softened
5 eggs (local/free-range)
1 cup wildflower amber honey
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 teaspoons organic almond extract

1 cup (8 ounces) Neufchatel cheese
1/4 cup organic heavy cream

2-1/2 cups whole-wheat pastry flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

Directions

Grease a 10-in. stone bundt pan and sprinkle with flour; set aside.

Place 1/2 cup turbinado sugar, almonds and 2 Tablespoons lavender in a food processor; cover and process until finely ground. Add the lemon zest and set aside.

In a large bowl, cream butter, remaining ½ cup turbinado sugar until light and fluffy; add the honey and continue to beat.

Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.

Beat in vanilla and almond extracts.

In a small bowl, combine the Neufchatel cheese and heavy cream

Combine the flour, almond mixture, baking soda and salt; add to the creamed mixture alternately with Neufchatel mixture, beating well after each addition.

Pour into prepared pan.

Bake at 350° for 55-60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean.

Cool for 10 minutes before removing from pan to a wire rack to cool completely.

Lavender Glaze

½ cup organic powdered sugar
2 teaspoons lavender simple syrup
2 Tablespoons wildflower amber honey
1 teaspoon organic lemon juice
little bit of filtered water

Directions

Whisk together all the ingredients except the water.

Whisk until smooth. Add water to thin if necessary.

Drizzle over the cake.

Sprinkle with dried lavender.

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Take some time to fully appreciate the notes of lavender and the companionship cake brings!