Tag Archives: Pique-Nique

Recipes For A High Tea Hike

October 2012

Cambridge, England…

Just shy of one year ago, I spent an amazing two weeks in London, which also meant the opportunity to visit one of my dearest friends. My very smart friend had attended Cambridge University in her “uni” years and wanted to show me the town. With its peaceful pace and historical charm, Cambridge seemed like the prime spot for me to have a proper spot of tea. Though the experience was a bit rushed, and I accidentally ordered a full tea service (meaning enough food for two), I could finally say I had experienced a proper British tea time!

When my blogging friend Heather Mulholland invited me to be a part of her “A Cup of Tea With…” series, I was equally honored and inspired. In her honor, I channeled my British tea experience for A High Tea Hike, which meant scones, egg salad sandwiches, and cucumber goat cheese sandwiches. We even took loose leaf Early Grey into the forest for authentic sipping! The recipes are listed below should you be interested in hosting your own high tea. Hiking is optional but highly recommended!

Butternut Squash Scones

Ingredients

2 1/2 cups whole-wheat pastry flour
1/4 cup firmly packed organic brown sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup (1/4 lb.) organic unsalted butter, cut into chunks

3/4 cup roasted and pureed butternut squash
1/2 cup plus 1 Tablespoon organic half & half

1 large egg yolk
Raw cane sugar
Cinnamon
Nutmeg

Directions

In a bowl, mix flour, brown sugar, baking powder, spices and salt.

Add 1/2 cup butter and, with a pastry blender or your fingers, cut or rub in until pea-size crumbs form.

In a small bowl, whisk squash and 1/2 cup half & half until well blended. Add to flour mixture and stir just until dough is evenly moistened.

Scrape onto a lightly floured board, turn over to coat, and gently knead just until dough comes together, 5 or 6 turns.

Pat dough into a 6-inch round 1 1/2 inches thick; use a circle cutting tool to cut small circles. Place shaped dough on a parchment lined baking stone.

In a small bowl, beat egg yolk and 1 tablespoon half & half to blend; brush lightly over tops of scones (discard any remaining egg wash).

In another small bowl, mix raw cane sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg to taste; sprinkle evenly over scones.

Bake in a 375° regular until scones are golden brown, 20 to 30 minutes.

Transfer to a rack; serve warm or cool.

Egg Salad Sandwiches

Ingredients

8 eggs (local/free-range)
1/4 cup organic mayonnaise
2 tablespoons minced red onion, caramelized
1 stalk celery, chopped fine
3 teaspoons Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon salt
Ground black pepper
*Rocket

*Rocket is British for arugula. I bet British children eat far more leafy greens than American children based on that name alone!

Directions

Place eggs in medium saucepan, cover with 1 inch of water, and bring to boil over high heat. Remove pan from heat, cover, and let sit for 10 minutes.

Remove the eggs from water. Once they are cool to the touch, remove the shells. Place the eggs in a medium sized bowl, and chop them into smaller pieces.

Add all the remaining ingredients and mix together.

Serve with “rocket” on sprouted whole-grain bread.

Happy High Tea!

A High Tea Hike

October 2012

Alex said, “How about a hike?”
I said, “How about high tea?”
Then autumn summoned summer,
And they worked in perfect harmony.

Serendipitea [ser-uhn-dip-i-tee] (noun): the good fortune of picking THE perfect day for a hike and a high tea picnic; the culmination of inspiration from various sources.

In the words of the great philosopher, Steph T., “If you greatly desire something, have the guts to stake everything on obtaining it.”

The hike unfurled like swatches from a paint sampler, with one hue following the next. There were paths through deep yellows, followed by walks through green blankets of ferns, and then there were falling reds and oranges. I felt like Dorothy on a mission with the Tinman, the cowardly Lion and the Scarecrow.

The horses marked the spot, and it was here I began to feel like Alice in Wonderland with a Mad Hatter and a crazy cast of characters seated for a proper tea (of sorts).

The forest tea table marked the culmination of previous journeys, past ceremonies, growing friendships and new inspiration.

The forest tea table marked one of my most treasured days. I hiked playfully. I sipped tea warmly. I ate contentedly. I laughed heartily. Put quite simply, I was happy, really, really happy!

As we finished the fall flavored scones, egg salad, cucumber sandwiches and mugs of tea, we continued along the playful path of imagination, on which little mounds of moss became the rolling hills of a distant land. Like little children who play their hearts out until the sun begins to set and mothers call for their return, we had enjoyed one of the last beautiful bursts of fall to its fullest.

Recipes for this Raccoon Creek State Park adventure to come! Stay tuned.

[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?

Riverside Picnics & Party At The Pier Tickets: A Pittsburgh Giveaway!

August 2012

This past fall, I took the solo sort of stroll and sat by the Allegheny River, amidst the wildflowers and shrubs. There were boats and quiet breezes. I quietly ate a scone, sipped a coffee and read. The slower, quieter time refreshed me, and the views renewed an appreciation for this steel town.

I’ve often critiqued the underutilization of the Pittsburgh riversides. There have been noticeable improvements as far as trails and overlooks are concerned, but the riversides still have yet to reach their full potential. Hence I was excited to learn about the Riverlife group whose mission is simple: Reclaim, restore and promote Pittsburgh’s riverfronts. Make them the environmental, recreational, cultural and economic hub for the people of this region and our visitors.

I’m also excited to offer my readers a chance to participate in a Riverlife event!  I am giving away a pair of tickets (a $250 value) to the annual fundraiser, Party at the Pier

Party at the Pier
Friday, Sept. 7, 2012
7-11 pm

Join Riverlife as Pittsburgh’s North Shore is transformed into a dazzling electric playground for Riverlife’s Party at the Pier 2012: Neon & Nature, presented by PNC. Water, land and light come together at what is sure to be one of 2012’s brightest events. Enjoy dazzling river views, delicious bites, electric cocktails, Gateway Clipper jaunts and a neon dance party at the stunning North Shore riverfront amphitheater in front of Rivers Casino (777 Casino Drive, Pittsburgh PA 15212). All proceeds benefit Riverlife and their efforts to reclaim, restore and promote Pittsburgh’s riverfronts.

The menu will focus on fresh, locally sourced food with a farm-to-table philosophy. Here’s a peek:

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

How To Enter

Leave a comment on this post describing a riverside picnic or dining experience. Describe a riverside meal you’ve already eaten or one that exists purely in your imagination. Tell me about your ideal menu or your favorite spot for picnicking by the rivers. Let yourself be inspired, and maybe we’ll share some farm-to-table food at the Party at the Pier. I will randomly pick from the comments and announce a winner on MONDAY, AUGUST 27th, which will leave you plenty of time to plan your neon ensemble and pick your partner for dancing.

What do you say?

 

AND THE WINNER IS…

Based on the numbering system of…

1:  Francisco
2:  Patricia
3: Kate & Charlotte
4: Hal B Klein
5:  The Small Change
6:  Amanda
7:  Sean

Congrats to Patricia Wojnar Crowley! She is the winner of TWO tickets to the Riverlife Fundraiser “Party at the Pier!”

Thank you all for your beautiful picnic ideas! Maybe we should all have a riverside picnic?!?

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.

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.

**************************

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

Fleatique + Piquenique (Tarentum, PA)

July 2012

There is a field where many different personalities gather, on the third Sunday of the warmer months. Some come bearing the collections they have gleaned from old homes, markets, antique stores and other treasure-guarding nooks and crannies. Some come to scour each table and to bargain until they walk away with a new addition to their own collections.

Fleatique is what brings all the personalities to the field, and after last year’s Fleatique, I found a new way to enjoy that third Sunday. There’s something so peaceful about the green, grassy patch of land, under large shade trees, where each table holds an oddity, a curiosity or a trigger for a memory. I extended that peacefulness in the best way I knew how- a picnic!

As we set up our spot, a rather grizzly yet friendly man stopped his white, Ford truck to ask us, “Pardon me, do you have any Grey Poupon?” It made my morning!

Each jam jar arrived ready for a splash of Italian Moscato wine. After partaking in the bubbly, we refreshed with a tart, berry lemonade.

Muddled Blueberries + Lemon Slices + Lemon Juice + Lavender Chamomile Tea + Great Company

When a cake is made with whole grains, wildflower honey, lavender, lemon and almonds, it’s ok to eat cake for breakfast! That’s exactly what we did!

(I will share this recipe in a subsequent post)

Effie’s Oatcakes + Sour Cherry Goat Cheese + Fresh Cherries. There was also fresh cantaloupe in the spread because even if the breakfast cake is on the healthier side, one should still eat extra fruit.

After wrapping the picnic into its wooden cases again, it was time to explore the offerings…

My pal Dino, the baker & music maker, was there selling fresh, warm paczki. The exterior was sweet, and a bite revealed a yellowy, sweet dough with plump raisins. Full from the picnic, these dense delights were reserved for Monday morning, and they made the return to the real world all the better!

*Side note: If they weren’t as delicious as they were, and a surplus mounted, I mused about a paczki food fight. Those donuts could really fly!

Until the next Fleatique… Better safe than zombie!

(stay tuned for the cake recipe)

The Pursuits of Picnics & A Life Less Complicated

July 2012

“Maintaining a complicated life is a great way to avoid changing it.” ~Elaine St. James

How very true.

The routines. The self-imposed business. The friends we don’t see. The little strolls forfeited.

Most of us have the opportunity to reclaim the moments that matter in the long run. As a blogger, this may be blasphemy, but sometimes…sometimes, you just have to turn off the computer, pack up something simple and meet a friend on a stoop.

The rest is a time to listen,to listen to each other and to listen to ourselves.  You’ll be surprised what you’ll hear, what you might contribute and what you’ll gain.

A beautiful picnic can be as simple as fresh cherries and coconut green tea on ice. The sunshine will add the glimmers, and beautiful friend will add just the right radiance.

Happy summer simplicity!

Another Look at PGH: Appetentree

October 2011

Where do you go when you need cheese, charcuterie and Terrible Towels?  Where do you go to show Steelers mayhem to visiting friends?  Which neighborhood do I try to avoid when “All My Steelers’ Ladies” (a play on Beyonce’s “Single Ladies) is playing?  As one who is apathetic to football (apologies Steel town) but zealous for cheese and farmers markets, my relationship with this neck of the PGH woods is of the love-hate sort.

The Strip District

We couldn’t resist the cheesesteak photo opportunity to highlight the Philly roots that bind us all together.  Why is it the world is seemingly so hellbent on stealing Philly’s fame?

When the enthusiastic vendor saw the special attention we were paying to his sign, he was very quick to bestow his BIGGG!!! sampler upon the ladies.  If you’re in the Strip District and for some reason find yourself craving Philly’s specialty, this is your tent, or you could also hit up the main source!  Unfortunately, we had a big eating agenda for the day, and we just didn’t have the stomach capacity for a cheesesteak “snack,” but rest assured, the food went to an appreciative stomach.  Our food agenda was calling us back to my ‘hood.

Polish Hill & The Invention of a New Course

Our day had begun later than we had intended, but we were still attempting to squeeze in all our food goals.  We had already sampled the best French offerings the city has to offer, we had French plans for dinner, and we also had wine, cheese and picnic goals.  This is when Jess so ingeniously invented a new course:  Appetentrée- a fusion of the appetizer and entrée course, meaning slightly more than an appetizer, slightly less than a main course (and only slightly less, by a show of modest restraint).  We could have our picnic and eat it too!

Plus picnics and pique-niques provide a great opportunity for friendships circles to form ven diagrams.  Nina, of Pittsburgh, meet Jess and Heather, of Philly.  All, meet Ruby (a very friendly lady despite her territorial stance on all fours).

Appetentree-Cheers

Had my wrist rotated a tad more, you would see the red dot marking my foray into South America via the motherland of the very wine we were enjoying.

The very Italian man at the meat counter of Penn Mac told me he liked my taste upon my ordering of the speck and complimenting his previous recommendation of porquetta.  When I came home and unwrapped the day’s supply of speck, I was quite surprised to find an extra hunk of speck hidden in the parchment paper!  I could attribute this generosity to a regularly occurring gift given at the end of the meat hunks, OR I could attribute it to the bond I have formed through frequent visits, impeccable tastes and very polite meat counter manners (and humility obviously).  Clearly, the ladder option is the most viable.

Remember the scent of fresh baked bread and the warm morning apartment?  It was time to sample some!  Look what a lovely job my new With the Grains interns did styling the meat and cheese for our outing.  Bravo Heather and Jess, bravo!

My trusted friend at the Whole Food’s cheese counter recommended Wellspring Creamery cranberry-orange, goat cheese.  Typically, I prefer to buy a cheese with its own flavor merits and add garnishes accordingly.  Often I find cheeses with fruit additions to be bland.  I was skeptical, but as I said, Justin is trustworthy in the cheese department, and he also said, “it tastes like cheesecake.”  I believed it, I bought it, and we all thoroughly enjoyed it!

The orange-cranberry goat cheese paired especially well with the slightly sweet and salty bread and a pecan garnish.  Delight in one bite!

I have zero credentials enabling me to declare a resemblance to a dinosaur egg, but I do have an active imagination.  These olives looked like dinosaur eggs!

Freckled dinosaur eggs!

Not only were they visually stimulating, but they tasted good too!  Jess was quite, quite pleased with her olive selection.

Also, I may or may not have proposed friend marriage to my bff, Nina…

The-Proposal

…with a ring made of peppered salami.

No need to be concerned for me after watching that magic.  Sometimes it looks like Nina just isn’t that into me.  Don’t worry.  She is.

The sun set.  The crisp air demanded more layers, and the evening plans called for a change of locale.

The appetentrée course was perfect!

Another Look at PGH: A Pastry Pique-Nique

October 2011

One of the perks of working for the quirky start-up that is my day job is what we call “French Pastry Tuesday.”  On Tuesdays, the company and Ed, the volunteer pastry fetcher by default of being a neighbor of the bakery, brighten our day with pastries from La Gourmandine.  I made the mistake of disclosing my zeal for almond croissants which make a limited appearance, so Tuesday mornings at work now feature a mad dash (and the occasional fisticuffs) to the pastry delivery to snag the coveted croissants with the moist, almond filling.

I have also alluded to the pastry source of happiness when I talked about my “Me, Myself et Moi” moments.  The choice for a Saturday morning breakfast during the Heather & Jess visit was clear!  Mind you, when you stay up extremely late on a Friday night catching up with an old friend and forming a bond with a new friend, Saturday “morning” and “breakfast” come around 1pm, which explains why these late birds missed the almond croissants.  Luckily, the bakery offers plenty of other delicacies.

La Gourmandine
4605 Butler St,
Pittsburgh, PA 15201
Neighborhood:  Lawrenceville

Since the sun was shining on the beautiful Allegheny Cemetery just across the street, we went on a Pastry Pique-Nique.

Paris-Brest x deux
Choux dough filled with hazelnut cream

Those coffee cups held hot beverages from one of the finest espresso purveyors on the Pittsburgh scene (and even beyond the Pittsburgh scene):  Espresso A Mano.  The combination of their cappuccino and La Gourmandine’s pastry makes for a moment that transcends the borders of this steel town.

Jess took a slightly more savory route to our French “morning” and chose a brie tart.

Animated-Pique-Nique

The pastry gods were shining upon Heather and her hazelnut selection.

After ample digestion and relaxation time, the ladies were due for a Lawrenceville tour.  The adventures continued.

Autumnal Summer Part Deux: Picnic & Pickin’

October 2011

A long while ago, I mentioned how autumn allures me.  Since then, my relationship with the fall season has been more love-hate.  I love the changing leaf colors, the crispness in the air, the honey crisps and acorn squashes, the cinnamon sticks and cider vapors, but I hate the sneaking warnings of winter and its bitter cold winds.  However, when the temperatures create a very temporary, transitional season, the season I am calling “Autumnal Summer,” I have nothing but love to offer to the world!  What better way to celebrate autumnal summer than a picnic and pickin’ adventure outside the city bounds?!?  The visions were whirling in my imagination, and I began the reality in the kitchen, of course!

Pssst… This is a long one!  Might I suggest something for your listening pleasure, so you can really kick back and enjoy this post?  Take a hint from our picnic listening and let Tremolo by The Pines take you to your country place.

THE PREPARATIONS

Roasted Root Vegetable Salad

Ingredients

Olive Oil

1 Golden Beet, peeled and sliced
1 Red Beet, peeled and sliced
1 Large sweet potato, peeled and sliced
1 Red pear, sliced
1 Bosch pear, sliced
3 Cloves of garlic, sliced
All natural dried cranberries

1/2 teaspoon curry powder
Cinnamon, to taste
Nutmeg, to taste
Cloves, to taste

2-3 Tablespoons organic, unsalted butter
2 Tablespoons organic brown sugar

Let your taste and intuition dictate on this one, but here’s the idea:

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Grease a 9×13 inch pan with olive oil.  Combine the first set of ingredients in the pan.  Stir a few times to coat the vegetables in the oil.  Add the spices and stir again.

Bake for approximately 45 minutes, until the vegetables/fruit is tender.  Remove the pan from the oven.  Add the butter and brown sugar.  Stir as the butter melts.  Return to the oven for a few minutes until the sugar has dissolved.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool.
*Once cool, remove the cloves.

Meanwhile, stir a handful of hazelnuts in a saucepan over medium-high heat until fragrant.  Add a couple Tablespoons of honey and stir quickly.  Remove from heat and allow to cool.

To Assemble the Salad

In a large bowl, combine the roasted vegetables/fruit with mixed greens, the honey roasted hazelnuts and the blue cheese of your choice.  Add a sliced pear for a garnish.

Charcuterie

Moroccan Lamb Coppa from the Crested Duck Charcuterie, local green apple slices, organic red pear slices, manchego cheese and a touch of ground black pepper.

Fall Harvest Loaves

(Click the image to enlarge the recipe)

PS:  I am calling these “loaves” in the vein of “pumpkin bread,” but let’s be real, this is cake!  Also, next time I approach the pear/sage combination, I will be bolder with the sage!  Be daring!

The plan for the cocktail?

Champagne
Organic Sparkling Cranberry Italian Soda
A Garnish of Apple/Pear/Orange/Natural Dried Cranberry

(Picnic tested; picnic approved)

All packed and ready to start the sunny adventure…

THE PICNIC

There was something very spontaneous and maybe a smidge naive about my vision for this adventure:  We’d drive down a winding, country road, find an idyllic picnic location, removed enough from “it all” so as not to be shot by a gun-wielding, property owner and then just enjoy the sunshine with good friends and good food.  Wilderness Road looked promising.

My film professor used to quote Werner Herzog to me quite consistently, “I believe the common denominator of the Universe is not harmony, but chaos, hostility and murder.”  Said film mentor would use this quote to contest the way most people perceive nature as a pristine and calm system.

As we drove on roads winding through beautiful country fields interrupted by cul-de-sacs, a landfill, bursts of highway and finally deforestation, the visions in my head began to resemble The Lorax, with a Herzog narration more than a day at a country cottage.  I was beginning to think maybe I had lost all touch with reality while falling blissfully into fantasies of picnic baskets, an occasion for hats and sipping champagne in a field.

However, there is a something to be said for determination!  Wilderness Road may have offered its fair share of [disgusting] obstacles (bulldozers and weird sludge?!?), but we persevered.  Lo and behold, there was a place for us amidst the chaos of Western, Pa, and it was everything I wanted the spot to be!  There was sunshine, the changing colors of leaves, the occasional raining of those leaves around our clearing, peace and quiet (except for the popping of our champagne cork)!

(Apparently, I was very excited and encouraging when it came to popping the champagne)

Fortunately, cork is compostable because that sucker went fllllllllllying!

Nature’s dessert:  local apples drizzled with honey

Nature’s sound system…(are you still listening to The Pines?!?)

The gents went on a reconnaissance mission.  Something about two squirrels carrying a pumpkin?!!?  That’s why you always go on the reconnaissance mission!  Lesson learned?

With the bubbly consumed and our stomachs content, it was time to pack up and switch gears to the pickin’ component of the afternoon adventure plans.

A little bit of a back story…

My family has a deep affinity for ice cream.  I won’t lie; I have a fairly strong conviction my oldest sister married her husband because he is part of the family behind Merrymead Farm, a dairy (ie:  constant ice cream supply) farm in the ‘burbs of Philadelphia.  During the month of October, Merrymead holds “Harvest Days.”  I initially attended the fall festivities as a smaller Quelcy.  I would jump in the hay, attempt to launch baby pumpkins into a bathtub, in a cow field, meander my way through corn mazes, bounce on the hayride en route to picking my perfect pumpkin, pet baby cows, have my face covered in paint, have at least one temporary tattoo make its way to my body, eat a cider donut, probably eat some ice cream and call it a day.

This would repeat as many weekends as my sister was willing to take me, until the day when I was old enough to be employed by Harvest Days and had to be there every weekend.  As an ambitious youth, I climbed the silo ladder from game attendee (incidentally, this is why I question adults who are obsessed with “corn hole”… have you never been to a commercial farm in the fall?!?) to face painter.  After the many harvest weekends as an employee, everything began to blur into one crying kid with a snotty face, and I would gladly usher in the month of November.

Fast forward to a few years ago when some friends talked about going to pick pumpkins and apples at a farm outside of Pittsburgh.  I had a vision of neatly ordered rows of apple trees and a pleasant field of pumpkins.  A friendly farmer in plaid would hand me a basket.  I’d pick what I deemed the ready apples.  He’d weigh my basket, I’d pay, and voila!  The reality was a lot of obese Steelers fans in a confined and commercial section of a farm, wining kids and an overall frenzy that struck a little too close to home.  Where were the apple trees?!?  This time around, as visions of autumn activities escalated to near Victorian outings in my head, I prepared myself more for the reality of hayrides, face paint and screaming children.

THE PICKIN’ (in theory)

A friend, who is well versed in the local apple orchard scene, suggested Shramm Farms & Orchards might fit more into my idyll fantasies.  It was closer than my previous experience, but it was not the cigar.  In conclusion, I probably just want to be a day laborer for one day and take my lunch break under an orchard tree.  In the meantime, I embraced what Shramm had to offer.

Really contemplated how to disassemble and transport this teepee…

Shramm’s biggest offering?

THE PIRATE THEMED CORN MAZE!!!

The competition was fierce [it wasn't at all fierce].  Upon charging the labyrinth’s entrance, nature dictated a division into pairs.  Jono and Quelcy had accepted the mission:  find and mark the pirate symbols, culminating in a treasure chest, in the inner sanctum, of the inner corn circle.  Nicole and Eric Beauregardless caved under the pressure, and sadly, they exited having never even glimpsed the majesty of a treasure [there was no treasure] in a [cardboard] chest in a maze made of maize [completely intentional word play]. 

Go ahead and click on the corn maze pursuits to enlarge the raw emotion on the trail to glory [and complete and utter failure]! 

Not a pumpkin or apple was picked among us.  Instead, I walked away with this flour, mostly because of that Grandma and a little bit because of “Flannel Cake!”

All in all, a very memorable autumnal summer experience!  Thank you friends for playing along!

Now the question is…what will we do to celebrate the winter season?

Soup ‘n Stoop: Creamy Leek & Potato Soup

September 2011

Many years ago, I lived on a block of brown row homes lined with smelly gingko trees and raining yellow leaves. Before going in our separate work directions, my dear friend and neighbor Nina and I would share a morning percolator of coffee on one of our stoops. Those were the days!  I love my current apartment, but I really miss that stoop on sunny days. I knew all the comings and goings of that block, and perhaps all those comings and goings knew about me as well (what I read, what I ate, what songs my friend strummed on guitars).  Since my move and stoop sacrifice, Nina moved to the same neighborhood.  Now she and Deanna share an impressively grand stoop just a few blocks from my kitchen.  It was time to make proper use of those steps!  As the season suddenly changed, it was also time for some warm soup, fresh bread and sharp cheddar.

More of those deliciously fluffy rolls from this dinner.  Fortunately, this time around, the dinner only ended in laughter!

Soup ‘n Stoop: Creamy Leek & Potato Soup 

Ingredients

3 Tablespoons organic, unsalted butter
2 medium, local leeks, white and light green parts only
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 whole garlic heads
7 cups organic, free-range chicken broth
2 bay leaves
salt
3 medium + 6 small organic, local red potatoes
1/2 cup local heavy cream
Fresh, organic thyme to taste
Ground black pepper to taste
Minced local chives to taste
Fresh, local sage

Directions

Halve and wash the leeks before chopping into small pieces.

Cut off and discard the top third of the garlic heads.  Remove the loose outer skins.

Peel and wash the potatoes.  Cut into ½-inch cubes.

Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat.  When the foam subsides, add the leek, and cook until softened but not browned, about 5 to 8 minutes.

Stir in the minced garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

Add the garlic heads, broth, bay leaves and ¾ teaspoons of salt.

Partially cover the pot and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat.

Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until the garlic is very tender when pierced with the tip of the knife, 30-40 minutes.

Add the potatoes and continue to simmer, partially covered, until the potatoes are tender, 15-20 minutes.

Remove and discard the bay leaves.

Remove the garlic heads.  Using tongs or paper towels, squeeze the garlic heads at the root end until the cloves slip out of their skins onto a plate.  Mash the garlic to a smooth paste.

Stir the cream, thyme and mashed garlic into the soup.

Heat the soup until hot, about 2 minutes.

Use a food processor to puree half of the soup.  Return the puree to the pot and stir to combine with the potato chunks.

Season with salt and pepper to taste.   Add the chives.

Garnish with fresh sage and thyme.

Pack into a thermos and carry to a stoop.

FleaTique/PiqueNique P.S.

September 2011

This is how the perfect Sunday ended (perfect because of this and that)…with a few more little cookie cups, strong coffee (freshly ground) perfect sunlight, Ruby love and the stoop of a beautiful, brick building.

Two of a kind…

<3

Post FleaTique PiqueNique

September 2011

The vendors shuffled, wrapped and packed, closing booth by booth.  The FleaTique was drawing to a close.  Time for the PiqueNique!  It was a perfect afternoon.  Thank you ladies for sharing the sunny Sunday with me!

(Click here for the recipes)

FleaTique

September 2011

I mentioned how I had a plan brewing and a pique-nique all packed in a basket.  Thankfully, the blue skies and sunshine complied, and the three of us ventured to Tarentum, PA to meander amongst the aisle and aisles of antiques and flea market goods.  Here it is in all its former coal mine glory….

FleaTique

Lil’ lovin’ oven lust, but alas, at that price, this little guy was not meant to join my collection.

Do you think a love of antiques brought these two lovebirds together once upon a time?  I’d like to think so.

Nina sang a country song, and the vendor’s favorite part was when she sang “fuckin’ love song.”

Just past the moon potties…

… was a dream!

My new gig?

Not until I convince my friend Eric Beauregard to come hotwire the ice cream truck for me.  I told him his homemade sundaes would be on the house, and by “house,” I mean “wheels!”

Excitement escalated as it came closer to Pique-Nique time…

Stay tuned for the Pique-Nique!

Pique-Nique Planning

September 2011

I had this idea brewing for a while:  a Pique-nique at Fleatique, a monthly outdoor flea market/antique show fusion that happens at an old, coal mine site, outside Pittsburgh.  “Coal mine site” might seem like a horrible picnic location idea, but the grounds are grassy and tree lined and lovely.  The previous month, the skies were too threatening to my picnic basket plans, so we lunched inside instead, but the September skies were promising!  We proceeded with the picnic plans!

Pique-Nique Planning

Kneadless bread has been all over the baking blogosphere.  I am way behind on this trend, and after my own experiment, I’m not fully convinced that kneading is the enemy.  I did like the crumb and crust of my little loaves, but I wanted more flavor.  If I try this method again, I am going to add more complexity via honey, toasted grains or maybe a nut of some sort.  That being said, this bread served us nicely on a sunny Sunday, on a red checkered tablecloth, under shade trees.

See what you think.

No Knead French Bread

3 cups lukewarm water
2 Tablespoons active dry yeast (2 packets)
1 1/2 tablespoons coarse salt
3 1/2 cups local unbleached, all-purpose flour
3 ½ cups whole-wheat pastry flour

In a large mixing bowl, combine the water, yeast, and salt.  Set aside for a few minutes to allow the yeast to combine.

In a separate bowl, combine the flours, and then add them all at once to the yeast mixture.  Use a wooden spoon to stir.  You do not need to form a dough ball, but stir until no flour streaks remain and everything is well mixed.

Loosely cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a damp, lint-free towel.  Set aside for a few hours to rise.

After the dough has risen and deflated slightly, dust your hands with flour, and remove a portion of dough approximately the size of a grapefruit.  At this point, you could also refrigerate the dough if you’re not ready to use it or any remaining dough.

Pull the sides of the dough toward the bottom to form a loaf shape and a smooth surface.

Dust a surface with a cornmeal to prevent sticking, and let the dough rest for at least 40 minutes (longer if you have refrigerated the dough).

Put it on a cutting board that’s been dusted with cornmeal to prevent sticking, and let it rest for at least 40 minutes (longer if the dough has been refrigerated).

Twenty minutes prior to baking, put a pizza stone in the middle rack of the oven.  Place a broiler pan on the bottom rack.  Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

After the remaining twenty minutes and oven preheating, dust the loaves with flour and slash the surfaces with a sharp knife.

Slide the loaf (or loaves) onto the baking stone.  Quickly pour 1 cup of water into the broiler pan, and shut the oven door promptly to trap the steam inside the oven.

Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until you get a nice brown crust.

Remove and let cool completely.

Pique-niquing ladies cannot live by bread alone…

Porquetta (recommended by the friendly Italian at Penn Mac), honey crisp apples, Danish Blue, speck, sardo cheese and local pears.

and chevre!

Of course there needed to be a dessert to extend the afternoon lazing!

Chocolate Chip Hazelnut Cookies & Cookie Cups

Ingredients

1 ¾ cups whole-wheat pastry flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
14 Tablespoons local unsalted butter (1 ¾ sticks)
½ cup organic Agave syrup
¾ cup light brown sugar
1 teaspoon table salt
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 large egg*
1 large egg yolk*
(*local/free-range)
12 oz (1 pacakge) semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup hazelnuts, toasted and chopped

Directions

Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees.  Insert cupcake liners into a cupcake pan.

Whisk flour and baking soda together in a medium bowl; set aside.

Heat 10 Tablespoons butter 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat until melted, about 2 minutes.  Continue to cook, swirling the pan constantly until butter is dark golden brown and has a nutty aroma, 1-3 minutes.  Remove from heat.

Use a heatproof spatula to transfer the browned butter to a medium-sized, heatproof bowl.  Stir remaining 4 Tablespoons butter into hot butter until completely melted.

Add the agave syrup, brown sugar, salt and vanilla to the bowl with the butter, and whisk until fully incorporated.

Add egg and egg yolk, and whisk until mixture is smooth with no sugar lumps remaining.

Let mixture stand for 3 minutes, then whisk for 30 seconds.  Repeat process of resting and whisking 2 more times until mixture is thick, smooth and shiny.

Use a spatula or wooden spoon to fully incorporate the flour mixture.

Stir in the chocolate chips and nuts.

Fill the cupcake liners about ¾ of the way full.  Bake for 10-15 minutes, until edges are golden brown.  Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

(Quality Control:  check!)

Stay tuned for the FleaTique and Pique-nique photos!