Saturday, September 29, 2012

Crazy Vegetables and Rick Sebak

DB~ and I went downtown to the Strip today.  I've written plenty about the Strip District in the past, but let me once again say that the Strip on a Saturday (especially in pleasant weather) is a sight to behold.  There's just so much going on with all kinds of vendors on the street.

Today we wandered into the Farmers' Market at the Firehouse up the far end of Penn, past the Penn Avenue Fish Company.  There were lots of great craft and farmer stands, but one caught my eye right away. It was Mott Family Farm from Salesville, OH -- about 30 minutes west of Wheeling, according to the owner of the farm, Jeff Mott.

Sometimes, especially in the Strip, it's easy to get vegetable hypnosis.  Pretty much every stand has the same basic tomatoes, greens, eggplants, fruit, beans.  But at the sustainably and organically grown Mott Farm, he had all kinds of crazy variations on vegetables.  There were blue potatoes, all sorts of Asian eggplants, so many different types of sweet peppers, five types of garlic, a plethora of onion types, and on and on.  It also helped that Jeff Mott is probably one of the nicest guys you'll meet and eager to talk about produce with you and how to use it.

We ended getting a bunch of Japanese turnips (tasty raw, too), a head of red garlic, two Merlose red peppers, some blue potatoes, and a type of Taiwanese eggplant that was long and curly.  All that for just $8.

After that we left the Farmers' Market and headed back towards the main fray on Penn Avenue.  As soon as  we got on to Penn Avenue, DB~ said "This guy coming towards us looks like the guy from the Yinztagram app".  I knew she meant Rick Sebak, but forgot his name.  Sure enough, it was the actual Rick Sebak.  I said, "Hey, how are you doing, Rick!" and he stopped and talked with us for at least 10 minutes while holding bags of groceries.

If Jeff Mott is the nicest guy you'll meet, Rick Sebak is the 2nd nicest.  We asked him about what his new documentary was about (25 things he likes about Pittsburgh), how he likes being on Yinztagram (loves it), he told us about getting a signed program from Sir Laurence Olivier and waiting in line for autographs from London theaters, and a bunch of other stuff.

We got a picture of DB~ and Rick, with her face bright red.  He said to leave a space next to DB~ so that we could add the fake Rick Sebak into the picture.  He was a great guy and one of the more underrated Pittsburghers out there.

You never know what will happen in the Strip District.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Man With a Pan

I mentioned earlier this month that my zest for cooking had sort of waned over the summer.  I was still cooking 3-4 nights a week, but it wasn't "challenging" stuff and some nights it was more chore than pleasure. I credit the Saveur magazine dedicated to Mexican cooking as the kindling that got my culinary fire going again, but I've also been reading an interesting book, too.

It's called Man with a Pan by John Donohue.  The book is set up as a series of short essays by guys who do the cooking for their families.  The essayists are both famous/semi-famous folks in the food industry (chefs, food writers, plus Stephen King somewhat randomly) and non-famous everyday guys like firefighters and lawyers.

DB~ has a plethora of positive qualities, but cooking is not one of them.  She can clearly do it, but she dreads the thought of making dinner and loathes going to the grocery store.  Reading this book made me feel that I'm not alone.  There's lots of stories in this book where the wives have no interest in cooking (or were awful at it) and that responsibility has been delegated to the husband.

After the essays (the ones from non-famous people are usually 2-3 pages), the author gives one of their signature go-to recipes and lists a few cookbooks that have been big influences on their life.  I'm only about halfway through the book, but already 3 people have mentioned Marcella Hazen's Essentials of Italian Cooking as a key cookbook.  Prior to reading this book, I had never heard of Hazen or this cookbook, so after a quick Google search I learned that the 83 year old Hazen is still alive.  The cookbook was published in 1992 and was actually a compilation of two earlier books of hers.  Hazen is credited with bringing Old World Italian into 1970's America.

Up until last weekend, no one I talked to had heard of Hazen or this book. But while speaking with one of my cousins about another deceased cousin who was a master home chef, she recognized the cover of the book from seeing it in her aunt's kitchen for many years.

I love to cook because it is a stress relief for me and allows me to be creative.  It also makes me feel useful to DB~, as I am providing (mostly) great tasting meals that are fairly well-balanced in nutrition.  I like to know that she is eating well and that we just don't eat out all the time.

It's good to know that other guys feel the same way.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Last One Out Turn Out the Lights

Do you remember alllllll the way back to August 6th?  Those were the halycon days of this 2012 Pirates season, as they were sitting at 62-46 and two-thirds of the way to their first winning season since 1992.  The Pirates were only 3-1/2 games back of the Reds, even after losing 2 of 3 to them the previous weekend.

That was also the weekend where the Reds' pitchers hit the Pirates with relative impunity, highlighted by Aroldis Chapman tattooing Andrew McCutchen with a 98 mph fastball.  McCutchen was none too pleased, but the Pirates were unable to respond the next game as the umps immediately warned both benches from the start of the game.

It was almost an afterthought that the Pirates were going to finish over .500.  The more pressing issue was how the Pirates were going to fare in the playoff chase, both the wild card and the NL Central division chases.  But since that date, the Reds continued to stay super hot by going 23-16 while the Pirates have flamed out with a 12-27 record in the same time frame.

Now with a 74-73 record, it feels to be a foregone conclusion that the Pirates are going to finish with a losing record in 2012 as a result of their terrible tail spin.  The issue of trendlines is a funny one.  On April 1st, if you asked any Pirate fan if they would have been happy to 74-73 on September 19th and only 3-1/2 games out of the wild card spot, they would have been thrilled.  But the way the Pirates have gotten to this point has killed all joy for the season.

Going from 16 games over .500 to 1 game over and back sliding rapidly will do that to a fanbase.  This season has been an ice cold bath of reality for me.  I went from calculating how the Pirates could get 82 wins and when, to calculating how many wins the Pirates could get after the All-Star break to get to 90 wins and be in playoff position.

Now it is a chore to watch them squander all the goodwill they built up with Pittsburgh this season.  PNC Park is back to being the typical graveyard in September.  I'm going to the game tomorrow afternoon and it's almost like a punishment, especially to see the Brewers embarrass the Pirates again.

This season will be a difficult one to forget, especially when you think about the missed opportunities like losing 5 games in the last 2 weeks to the lowly Cubs.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Bamboo Steamed Tilapia

A couple of months back, DB~ and I bought a bamboo steamer at Crate & Barrel.  And quite frankly, I forgot about it.  I jammed it in the back of our "ethnic" cabinet and found it when cleaning out some stuff last weekend.  With some prompting from the Squiggle, I found some basic bamboo steaming ideas online and then modified it.

I got two tilapia fillets and marinaded them overnight in a jarred red chile based Thai sauce.  Tonight for dinner, I put a piece of parchment paper on the bottom of the steamer, placed green onions on the bottom, and then the marinated fish on top of that bed of green onions.  I bought a whole ginger root and (after peeling the skin) sliced it into small matchstick size pieces that were placed on top of the fish.  On top of that, I placed some more green onions for flavor.

For the actual steaming process, I put a 1/2 inch of water into the round Dutch oven and brought it to a boil. I turned the heat down to a roiling boil and then put the steamer into the water.  I did a check beforehand to ensure that the water wasn't too deep and didn't come up through the bottom of the steamer into the fish.  I placed the top of the bamboo steamer on and let the fish steam for 12 minutes.

The steaming process did keep the flavors in.  In retrospect, I probably would have steamed for 10 minutes as the fish was a touch dry.  I served the fish with some udon noodles drizzled with a garlic/ginger sauce.

I think the next time I'll try the steamer with some vegetables to see how they perform.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Chilled Avacado Soup

As I mentioned in the last post, my zest for cooking was recently re-kindled by Saveur magazine's Ode to Mexico issue.  The same night we had the salsa verde enchiladas, we started off the night with an appetizer of chilled avocado soup.

I typically don't like chilled soups, but this one was fresh and light.  It was a great way to open up a meal of Mexican, which can at times get a little heavy.

I slightly modified Saveur's recipe to this:
2 avocados, pitted and chopped
1 2-oz can of green chiles, divided in half
1/2 Spanish onion, diced
1 plum tomato, diced
2 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup heavy cream
Juice of 1 lime
Pepper and salt to taste

I put the 2 avocados, half of the diced onion, half of the green chiles into the food processor.  Once it was pureed into a paste, I slowly fed the heavy cream and chicken stock through the chute until the mixture was a  creamy soup.

Once it came out of the food processor, I strained it to remove some of the seeds and pulpy matter, but I didn't get as much out as I would have liked.  After the straining, I placed a tiny cluster of the tomato, onion, and chiles on the surface of the soup to resemble the Mexican flag.  This was then served to my DB~ for her culinary approval.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Salsa Verde Enchiladas

I've been in a cooking rut this summer.  I've been going back to old recipes, keeping it simple by grilling out, and generally not being too interested in trying new things.

But a few weeks ago, I got my latest copy of food porn in the mail in the form of Saveur magazine.  In general, if you're a foodie, this should come wrapped in a brown bag.  This month's issue, focused solely on Mexico, should have been hidden behind the cash register and made me show ID before I had it delivered.  It was that good and it totally re-charged my culinary batteries.

Last week, I made two dishes from the magazine for DB~.  This post will focus on the main dish, chicken enchiladas smothered in homemade salsa verde.  The salsa verde recipe I used looked like this:
4 smallish tomatillos, husks off, cleaned, quartered
1 clove of garlic, diced
1 oz of jalapenos, diced
1/4 of a Spanish onion, diced
2 tbsp of fresh cilantro, chopped
Pinch of salt
Water to make it run smoothly

I tossed the quartered tomatillos, garlic, pinch of salt, and jalapenos in the food processor.  I pulsed it a few times and add some water to make it smooth.  Once that was done, I put that into a bowl with the diced onions and cilantro and stirred it together.

The salsa verde was spicy as hell prior to using it in the recipe.  What I did with it was use as a pseudo-sauce on top of chicken enchiladas.  The enchiladas themselves aren't too interesting.  I cooked some chicken, chopped it up and sprinkled cumin on it.  Add that to some green chiles, tomatoes, and shredded cheese, then rolled them up.

The salsa verde was added on top and baked for 20 minutes at 350 degrees.  The jalapenos and salsa verde mellowed out considerably after being baked.  The flavors were multi-tiered and very satisfying.  Viva Mexico!

Saturday, September 1, 2012

It's the Donegal F*^%@ng Wine Mixer!

As I mentioned in the Out of the Fire post, DB~ went up to the Laurel Highlands and Seven Springs, specifically, last weekend for the Seven Springs Wine Festival.  We went whole hog and got the 2 night stay package and tickets (with complimentary breakfasts!) at the lodge.

DB~ is the wine girl.  I drink wine because she drinks wine.  She knows the difference between chiraz, cabernet, and merlot.  I know the difference between red wine and white wine, mostly because I am not color blind.  She has always wanted to check this event out and I was more than happy to indulge her.

It was a gorgeous weekend to do this -- the weather was sunny and hot, high 80's probably, which may have been a touch hot to drink wine outside.  But it wasn't like we were drinking milk.

Both of us love to people watch and let me tell you, this was a fantastic venue to do so.  There were people who were Serious About Drinking Wine and people who were Seriously Drinking Wine.  As is with most things, we fell somewhere in the middle.

The event had two distinct demographic groups -- Groups of people 30 and under (including bachelorette parties and male/female couples) and groups of people over 50.  I guess the 30-50 year olds were home with their kids, for the most part.  Tons of women wearing sparkly/bejeweled shirts with funny wine sayings on them.  For the most part, everyone was tastefully attired, but there were some "look at me" outfits that probably weren't appropriate to the event.

I don't have the brochure in my possession anymore, but there were probably close to 30 different wineries there and all were more than willing to give you a tiny poured sample of their (typically) 8 different wines.  You each get a glass at the entrance of the event and can get it rinsed out by the sporadically placed water coolers through the event.  Some people were bellied up to the different stands like Norm on Cheers getting 3-5 samples in a row, which is annoying and self-centered when there are a metric ton of people behind them waiting their turn.

The event was well done and smoothly run.  We ended buying some wine from the Glades Pike Winery, our favorite being the Traminette wine -- a lemon-tinged white seasonal wine with some fruit undertones.  There were plenty of people there buying wine by the case (10 bottles), too.  We were cool with 3.

Wine drinkers (wine-o's as DB~ called them) are an interesting sub-set of people.  They're not all named Muffy anymore, either.