A season for cider

trying Crispin cider
I have to admit I was a little dubious about any hard cider that comes with the suggestion to "serve over ice!"

I was born and raised in Asturias, a region of northern Spain that is very similar to where I live now in western Pennsylvania. Apple orchards are a common sight in both of these landscapes. In Asturias, hard cider is one of the most popular and commonly enjoyed alcoholic beverages, but not in Pennsylvania, nor (as far as I know) anywhere in the U.S.

Hard cider is starting to develop a following in this country, but is still viewed by many as an inferior choice to beer. Maybe because of different marketing strategies, I find that many hard ciders in this country have many other ingredients other than just fermented apple juice, which is basically the main ingredient in fine European hard ciders. A good example is Crispin Hard Cider, which offers the suggestion of serving over ice–a bizarre idea bordering on sacrilege for someone raised on Asturian sidra! This beverage contains hard cider, filtered water, apple juice concentrate and natural apple essence. As a sweet apple flavored drink, well, it’s not bad. It’s probably a drink that would be enjoyed by many, but it’s not hard cider, not my kind of hard cider that you would drink as you would a beer. This Crispin cider beverage reminds me of an appletini or dessert drink–something like granny smith sorbet, not hard cider. But who knows–maybe it’s an encouraging sign to see more ciders on the market, even if they don’t necessarily match my idea of what hard cider should be.

Farnum Hill semi-dry hard cider
Farnum Hill semi-dry hard cider, a great choice for our Thanksgiving feast!

Now, a good American hard cider is made in New Hampshire at Farnum Hill. Farnum Hill ciders are–in my modest opinion–great hard ciders. I have much to say about Farnum Hill, but for this entry, I will just say that Farnum Hill Semi-dry cider was my choice for this year’s Thanksgiving dinner, and it was a great pairing to our harvest feast.

Buen provecho!

a harvest dinner at Bite Bistro for hardcore foodies and everyday diners

David Bulman in the Bite Bistro kitchen
David Bulman in the Bite Bistro kitchen preparing a salad of brussels sprouts for the Late Harvest Tasting Dinner

Since Vivo Kitchen moved to Sewickley, the younger DiBatista generation, Danina and Martina, have taken over the old Bellevue space with a new restaurant–Bite Bistro. Just like Vivo, Bite Bistro pleases hardcore foodies and everyday diners alike.

David Bulman is the chef. David is classically trained in culinary arts and the man running the show behind the line. I have had the pleasure to teach culinary classes and cook with David. He’s very passionate about his work. David is a strong supporter of local and sustainable products, and it shows in his menu choices.

Last week, Bite Bistro had a late harvest dinner. A prix fixe menu–seven courses. Bite Bistro has a tasting menu once a week and a special prix fixe dinner like the one I attended once per month. These dinner events are a great opportunity for anyone to get a good understanding of what chefs are working with for the season and maybe get to know the chef’s style as well.

David’s style is about using good, local ingredients (when possible) and using preparations that feature those ingredients in uncomplicated ways. David tells me that dishes like these are what keep people coming back. And I have to agree, simple, well prepared choices are definite winners.

The menu ranged from beets, and brussels sprouts to a duck, quail, and chicken trio. I know how much David enjoys working with duck, so I was glad to see it in the menu.

Beets were in the opening course and then we enjoyed them for dessert. The beet gelato with Gorgonzola and walnuts was a big hit. David also sent to our table a granny smith gelato. This gelato is part of their current menu and was delicious, a great way to finish any meal year around. I know David just made more. Go try it, and you’ll tell me how good it was!

Quail, duck, and chicken
The third course was quail, duck, and chicken; red wine glace de poule; carrot, ginger, local kale, and turnips. Notice the delicious optional foie gras there at the back of the plate!
Vegetable spaghetti made of zucchini instead of pasta
An alternate selection for the third course was "Vegetable Spaghetti"--zucchini and cauliflower artfully shredded and dressed with chanterelle mushrooms and truffled pecorino.
Beet gelato with walnut glace and goronzola cheese
Beet gelato with walnut glace and goronzola cheese
Martina DiBatista in the dining room of Bite Bistro
Martina DiBatista in the dining room of Bite Bistro

homegrown figs

Figs stuffed with goat cheese and wrapped in jamon serrano
Figs stuffed with goat cheese and wrapped in jamon serrano

At a gathering earlier this fall some people were astonished to hear that I had a good fig harvest this year. A good harvest for my fig tree is around twenty to thirty figs. I now live in Pennsylvania–not the best climate for figs–but like many of my fellow “diegos” I have found a way to have our home grown figs. The fig tree makes a great addition to our patio in the summer. It’s about four feet high and confined to a large pot. Then, during the winter months, the fig tree hibernates in the garage.

Some people have their fig trees planted outside in an area protected from the weather and they wrap them when winter comes. I have also heard of people digging trenches and burying them during the winter (but that’s Paolo, the world’s only Italian redneck, so I’m not sure how common a practice this is). But for the most part, fig trees are easy to take care of and are fairly pest free. The only thing you’ll notice from time to time is a little damage from birds eating holes in the fruit, which is common with most fruit trees.

This year we had also had a chipmunk problem. A chipmunk discovered the figs and couldn’t get enough. One morning we saw this chipmunk carrying a fig in its mouth. The fig was almost as big as the rodent and loaded it down to where it was walking on its front legs only: the back legs were not touching the ground. I let the chipmunk get away since we had enjoyed so many figs this year, but I don’t know if I’ll let it happen again next year. Watch out, rodent.