Sampling a rare batch of “Blackout Stout” from Great Lakes Brewing that has been aged in bourbon barrels. Outstanding! In the background are brewer Luke Purcell and regional sales manager Connie Tucci of Great Lakes Brewing Co.
If you’re still trying to think of something fun to do on Valentine’s Day, I have a suggestion for you. Last week I attended the first “Hoppy Hour” event scheduled by the Giant Eagle Market District in Robinson. Hoppy Hours are beer tastings intended to showcase various breweries, where you can sample selections from the brewery’s lineup along with food pairings that the menu described as “light bites” (but they were substantial enough that eaten over the course of the evening, they made a satisfying meal). This first event featured Cleveland’s Great Lakes Brewing Company.
For this event, we gathered at 6:30 at the bar (yes, a bar inside the grocery store—-how can you refuse to go grocery shopping now?) and the tasting began right there with a light malty Conway’s Irish ale and a mini shepherd’s pie. This was a great start and a favorite of mine, but the tasting had just begun.
Then we went upstairs where the event room was set up with five more tasting stations closely supervised by brewer Luke Purcell. At the first station we were greeted with a lager, Dortmunder Gold, and a slice of Hawaiian pizza. At the next station, a trio of French bleu cheeses was accompanied with a citrusy Burning River IPA. Next an amber lager called Eliot Ness with spicy smoked salmon on grilled sourdough bread. (As a baker and sourdough aficionado, I was interested to learn that the bread is made in house at the Market District every morning from scratch.) Gyro burger sliders were served with Commodore Perry IPA, a dry fruity IPA. For desert? Edmund Fitzgerald Porter, a bittersweet beer with hints of coffee and chocolate, the perfect match for a parfait of chocolate ganache and berries. I wasn’t crazy about the ganache, but I’d enjoy drinking the beer again.
Brewer Luke Purcell took the time to answer all our questions at the end of the tasting. And perhaps to keep the Pittsburgh crowd friendly, he pulled out a bourbon barrel aged stout. This beer is made in such small batches that it’s not even available for sale at this time, and maybe I shouldn’t be talking about it. I’m not a beer expert, but to call this complex beverage mere beer is almost demeaning. This beer was as sophisticated as a port or a well-aged bourbon. Great beer and a great evening.
If you’re looking for something different to do, the Market District will be hosting these beer tastings for several more weeks and the next one is a Valentine’s special. Ladies, your man will love it!
This is the mix of fruit we included in our fruitcake. Raisins, dates, prunes, maraschino cherries, and of course the wild pears that I foraged last year. You can see they are a bit discolored from the everclear, but it’s not so bad!
Now that the holidays are over, you may be sick of fruit cake. But I want to tell you about a very special fruit cake.
I didn’t realize this until now, but the making of this cake started in the fall of 2012.
Remember when I found those very interesting pears growing wild by a parking lot? The tree was very overgrown and the fruit was small. To this day I still don’t know if they were Asian pears or honey pears or some other variety.
I took the pears home. Peeled them and put them in everclear, without blanching them or any previous treatment. They preserved well. They had a great flavor and gave a nice amber color and a pleasant fruity taste to the everclear. But the pears turned dark brown. Picture a gallon-sized glass jar full of these discolored pears floating in yellow liquid, sitting on the kitchen counter. Not the most appealing sight in a food preparation area. You can imagine the kind of things my wife would say about this, but I was mostly pleased with my experiment and I refused to get rid of it just because it wasn’t pretty.
One day Laura mentioned to me how those pears would probably not be bad in a fruit cake. At first I thought this was probably another derogatory comment towards my pears. But Laura has an obsession with black cake, Jamaican fruit cake. And she has been wanting to make it for a long time.
We gathered dried and preserved fruits, my pears included, and we made black cake. Well–sort of.
Burnt sugar. This is not nearly black enough for blackcake, but this is as far as I could make myself go! Maybe next time I’ll be able to burn it real good. Or maybe I will put my wife in charge of the sugar. ;-)
Black cake calls for very dark, burned sugar. That’s what makes the cake black. And I just couldn’t do it. I started the sugar like I have many times for flans or other preparations, but in this case it has to go beyond to the dark side and it has to be very dark and bitter. I have seen this happen by mistake multiple times. Thick smoke permeates the kitchen and your innocent preparation turns into Napalm in front of your eyes. A rookie pours water on it and then it takes over your kitchen! Years of training kicked in and when the caramel was to a “safe” darkness I pulled it away from the heat. I just couldn’t burn it. It wasn’t dark enough for the Jamaican version but it made a very nice looking “regular” fruit cake.
We kept it in a can for three months, like you do, turning it periodically for the moisture to code evenly.
A few weeks ago we tried it for the first time. It was tasty! Laura was pretty pleased with the results, even if it’s not as dark as she was hoping for.
I was glad my special pears were put to good use. It was a fun project. And I don’t have to hear any more complaints about the big jar of pears on the counter.
A slice of fruitcake–a classic holiday dessert, often mocked, but this one is pretty tasty. It’s our first attempt at Jamaican “black cake.” It was delicious–fruity, tender, soaked in alcohol–what’s not to like?! Happy holidays to me. :-)
Now that the brotforms are seasoned with use, it gets easier to use them and the bread I have been baking with my homemade sourdough starter has been steadily improving. I try to bake a batch of bread each week. Here I am scoring the loaves to help them expand upward.
Even though we got a brand new italian loaf pan at the USA Pans sale on Saturday, I used my brotforms (coiled cane bread molds) to shape the loaves I made this morning.
How did you spend your “extra hour” when you turned the clocks back today for the end of Daylight Savings Time? The best way to spend it is in the kitchen, of course.
There’s nothing like homemade bread!
Muffin tins from USA Pans full of banana bread batter.
These muffin tins are a joy to use and clean.
Pittsburgh is home to manufacturers of leading kitchen equipment. If you are a serious chef or a self-respecting foodie, you have doubtless heard of Pittsburgh’s own All-Clad. But have you heard of USA Pans? Maybe not, because they create branded bakeware for retail labels like Williams Sonoma or Sur La Table.
If you ever use pans made by USA Pans, you’ll never want to use anything else. This bakeware is a commercial favorite: quick release silicone coating on heavy duty Pittsburgh steel. In my own kitchen, I have muffin pans, half-sheet pans, a meatloaf pan, and a baguette pan from USA Pans, and I’m still looking to stock up on more.
And Saturday November 2nd from 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. might be the time to get a few more pieces. They are having their biannual PAN SALE!
Come check it out! They’re located at:
33 McGovern Blvd.
Crescent, PA 15046
Link to this address in Google Maps
Drop biscuits on a USA Pans jellyroll pan
USA Pans baguette pan with sourdough loaves during baking
USA Pans loaf pan with fruitcake batter
This is my largest skillet and it’s pretty much full of hen of the woods mushrooms. This was a great haul.
This year has been great for wild mushrooms, and even now as we enter autumn, a favorite among mushroom lovers is ready for picking. I’m talking about hen-of-the-woods, ram’s head, sheep’s head, maitake, signorina, grifola frondosa, the king of mushrooms some say. This mushroom is highly valued in traditional medicine, but it’s also very tasty and versatile in the kitchen.
In the past two weeks I have foraged around 5 pounds of grifola frondosa. The first day we had them with ham, collard greens and smoked gouda. I also made a creamy mushroom soup a few days later. And the leftover cream of mushroom I used to flavor a rice and chicken casserole—better than Campbell’s!
The rest I pickled in a simple solution of vinegar, water, and salt. I also used a little fresh thyme and a green onion from the garden. My philosophy on pickling is keep it simple, so that whatever you’re preserving can be as versatile as possible when you later use it in a dish.
Mushrooms are a great addition to any meal: fun to work with and even more fun if you are able to forage them yourself.
Pickling is a good way to preserve this wild mushroom harvest. I go light on the seasonings because I want to be able to use a variety of seasonings when I eventually cook with these mushrooms.
Puree of mushroom soup, topped with croutons fried in olive oil just as my grandma used to do
How about an event for everyone in the family? “Food, Film, Music, Books and Beer”–this is what you’ll find at the “The Brooklyn Brewery Mash” in Pittsburgh, October 22nd to the 27th. Check out the program of events. I’m especially excited about “Chaos Cooking,” a potluck where people don’t bring a finished dish, they bring the ingredients they want to cook.
Hope to see you there!
Some people I talked to about my weekend plans didn’t know anything about Garfield, and sure didn’t know what kinds of things you’d find there. Would you guess… a dog with a blue mohawk? Hmmm–sure! But we also enjoyed many other fun things at this Friday’s Garfield Night Market, a new monthly celebration of the Garfield community that’s scheduled along with Penn Avenue Unblurred on the first Fridays of the month.
Garfield Community Farm was there. This alone was a reason for me to go check it out. Urban community farms–and the prospect of more farms possibly sprouting throughout the city–are the kind of thing I’m passionate about.
With two three-year-olds, I’m also passionate about finding family-friendly Friday night activities. This night market, on N. Pacific Avenue between Penn and Dearborn, was a perfect outing for us. For example, there were so many food vendors offering everything from snacks to pie to meals that there was something for everyone. We enjoyed the delicious smells emanating from La Casita Food Truck, BRGR, Fukuda’s Lomito, Pittsburgh Pie Guy, and many more, but finally settled on a toddler-friendly strawberry crepe with whipped cream from the guys at Creped Crusader.
Many other vendors were there, thirty in total, I believe. And they were selling more than just street food. There were candles, beautiful prints, jewelry, ornaments, and so on. A jewelry vendor told us, “Everything $5 on that side of the table,” as my wife looked for vintage treasures. She found several, but our girls’ sticky fingers and insatiable curiosity made it hard to do any serious shopping. We saw many people in the friendly and inviting crowd eating Healcrest Urban Farms “tea pops.” They looked yummy and interesting–maybe next time.
Even if you don’t have kids, this market is a worthwhile stop when you’re on Penn Avenue for First Friday events.
We had a great time. We’re looking forward to our next night in Garfield. The next Garfield Night Market is on October 4–maybe I’ll see you there!
The people–or dogs!–you meet are always the best part of the fun when you’re out and about. Our daughters loved this dog’s edgy ‘do.
Rick Easton and Cavan Patterson welcome guests to a family style dinner at Wild Purveyors featuring Rick’s artisanal bread
Recently I met a peculiar yet endearing character. He shares my love for good ingredients and great uncomplicated food. But above all, he’s incredibly passionate about bread. He can keep you enthralled in a conversation about bread, different types of flours, ovens and anything else to do with the bread making process for hours. He’s one of few that still makes bread the truly “old fashioned” way, without any commercial yeasts and spending the long hours (sometimes 36 hours at a stretch) required to produce these amazing breads. He’s an artisan baker and his name is Rick Easton.
You don’t get a chance to eat bread like this every day!
So when I had the opportunity to attend a “Bread and Salt” dinner hosted by Rick at Wild Purveyors in Lawrenceville, I couldn’t wait. Rick put together a delicious menu featuring local ingredients provided by Wild Purveyors. As you might expect, his bread was the star of the night. I had bread before dinner, with every course and in-between courses, and I wanted more. His bread is crunchy on the outside, moist and chewy on the inside and the flavor is incomparable.
Rick is fond of saying that bread is best enjoyed with a meal. I would add that a meal is best enjoyed with good company, which we had in abundance at this dinner. (And wine, but that’s another story. Stories, actually….) Watch Wild Purveyors and Rick on Facebook for your next opportunity to attend a dinner like this one. Until Rick gets set up in a more permanent location, events like these will be your only opportunity to try his bread. I can’t wait for the next chance.
Sorrel purslane soup
Chef David Bulman of Pittsburgh’s Verde restaurant on Penn Avenue. (I knew him before he worked at the French Laundry!)
Chef David Bulman from Verde Mexican Kitchen and Cantina was getting ready for Restaurant Week here in Pittsburgh. And I had the chance to preview his tasting menu on Sunday. Four courses, a palate cleanser, and dessert. The chef worked with talented bar manager Hannah Morris to create pairings to complement each dish. The pairings were masterful, bringing new dimensions of flavor and enjoyment. Verde prides itself on its encyclopedic collection of tequila and mescal, so no Verde menu would be complete without them.
Ceviche and Agua Fresca got us off to a great start. Chilled tortilla soup with a glass of Diseño Torrontes was one of my favorites. A twist on the classic combination of potato and chorizo combination with chipotle aioli followed. The pairing: Del Maguey San Luis del Rio crema de mescal. (Many people find mescal too smoky. If you’re one of these people, please give this mescal a try–you won’t be disappointed.) Then a Mahi-mahi taco with a cerveza preparada—a beer cocktail. And then came the masa “ñoquis” with braised goat. And when I thought I couldn’t absorb any more, a smooth avocado sorbet, a perfect palate cleanser. And the final course, Coco y Lima dessert, was paired with Agavero Damiana infused tequila. This was my favorite course. Yes, I have a sweet tooth, but that’s not the only thing that made this my favorite. In the wrong hands, lime and coconut can be a disaster that tastes like suntan lotion (not that I’ve ever eaten suntan lotion, I can only imagine). But done right, the combination is a bite of paradise, a refreshing tropical vacation for the palate. And this was done right. A sip and a bite and I was in paradise.
It was a great meal and Verde’s staff will spoil you. If you told me that Jeff Catalina could assemble another front of the house staff as expert (and good looking!) as the one at Tender Bar in Lawrenceville, I wouldn’t have believed you.
When you go to Verde, drop me a line and let me know what you think.
This tortilla soup was a popular favorite. Twenty garnishes meant that each mouthful was a different, magical combination.
Delicious “ñoqui” (gnocchi) made from corn flour
My favorite course was dessert–an expert treatment of two tricky flavors: coconut and lime. This was served with Agavero Damiana infused tequila–the perfect ending to a wonderful meal.
Breakfast clafoutis made with fresh sour cherries–one of the joys of summer.
I remember it like it just happened. But it was long time ago. I was fourteen years old, my brother eleven.
We both sat on the living room couch, looking straight ahead, limp, motionless. But everything around us seemed floating as in a dream.
My grandmother came into the living room. It was no dream. She immediately noticed a bottled of homemade sour cherry liquor on the coffee table. Most of the cherries were missing, some of the pits piled on the table around the bottle. She looked up at us, and to this day, I don’t know what she said. I only remember her body and hand gestures. Her mouth moving, but we never hear a word.
What follows, well, I’ll spare you the details. Let’s just say that a large amount of alcohol soaked cherries inside a child’s body is quick to find its way out. We were lucky that nothing else happened to us. In this case the treatment we received from the cherries was sufficient punishment. The mere mention of cherries turned our stomachs for years.
But that was long time ago. And now I have my own sour cherry tree. These cherries are great for baking. My girls love a sour cherry clafoutis. And I am looking forward to trying my own sour cherry liquour–I have a couple of pints of cherries flavoring some Everclear. Don’t worry–I promise I won’t have too many at once.
Sour cherries in Everclear