Sunday, November 3, 2013

Scarola e fagioli, or a lesson in eating Pittsburgh-style

Before moving to Pittsburgh, the only local food specialty that I was aware was the famous overstuffed sandwich from Primanti Brothers.

People kept telling me I had to try it when I got here. On top of the generous portion of meat, you will find coleslaw and French fries on this sandwich. One of the stories of how this story came to be is that local truckers needed a meal they could eat with one hand but will also keep them full for a long day of work. The cook had the idea to throw all the usual fixings, plus all the usual sides onto this mega sandwich and send the truckers on their way.

While I love the humble beginnings of this sandwich, those who know me know this isn't really my schtick. We are still navigating the strange beer/wine/liquor laws in this state and exploring our neighborhood joints, and I want to share one of my most surprisingly enjoyable discoveries... Beans and greens.

My first encounter with Beans and Greens almost didn't take place. We were walking around the Strip District, being shown around the city by a knowledgeable transplant who has called Pittsburgh home for the last several years. She suggested we go to Colangelo's for a quick bite before I had to go back to work. When we got there, I wasn't sure what to expect. Pastries dominated the display case, and the lunch menu seemed limited and not terribly exciting. The smell of garlic and coaxing from my host urged me not to give up on the place before I even tried it.

Though it didn't sound very exciting, I almost ordered the roasted vegetable panino. It seemed like a solid vegetarian option. But I was urged to try the Beans and Greens. Really? I questioned this recommendation. That sounds even more droll than the sandwich. Something that wouldn't be filling or even that flavorful. I don't eat meat, but I don't eat "rabbit food" either. But ultimately I conceded to the suggestion. And I'm sure glad I did!

The Beans and Greens were flavorful and comforting. The vegetables (mostly spinach, some roasted tomatoes and potatoes) brought enough variety and a "healthy" factor that met my basic needs. The beans and broth were richly flavored, with just the right amount of cheese on top, plus a slice of in-house-made bread to sop up the remnants. Did I mention the garlic? The wonderful garlic aroma that had been wafting from Colangelo's to the street must have been my Beans and Greens in the making.

While I didn't know it at the time, Beans and Greens was not a unique dish to Colangelo's. In retrospect, Colangelo's set a high bar for Beans and Greens and I'm thrilled to say my next experience gave the first dish a good run for its money.

Upon discovering it on the menu at the newly opened Della Terra in Harmony, I knew I had to make  Beans and Greens mine for a second time. While different from the earlier version in so many ways, this Beans and Greens experienced tickled my senses in all the right places. This time, the greens, a more traditional escarole, were the sole vegetable star of the plate. The scent of fresh rosemary played a lovely duet with the garlic. This dish was slightly less brothy and served without the lovely bread companion, but still wonderfully comforting and leaving more wanting more at the end. While a trek from the city, I can promise that I will make it back to Della Terra for their Beans and Greens.

The Della Terra version

As I wonder where my next encounter with Beans and Greens will be, I also ponder the history of its presence in Pittsburgh. Due to the rich history of Italian immigrants in the area, this traditional peasant food has found its way onto menus around the city for years. I'm excited to try as many variations of the dish as there are chefs with Italian nonnas in this Paris of Appalachia. Perhaps I'll even try my own hand at making it during a blustery winter evening with one of the recipes found below.

Related links:

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Bargain food shopping... you get what you pay for [?]

For unknown reasons, after moving to Pittsburgh, I was excited to visit the local Aldi and see if the savings were as good as the chatter.

We decided to try out some food items, so here's the verdict:
  • Garlic Hummus -- tasty, extremely garlicky. Good value, but would try the Red Pepper flavor next time. 
  • Frozen Dinners -- Purchased an Asian Stir-Fry and Southwest Fiesta flavor. The Asian Stir Fry one smelled good when microwaving at work. Even received unsolicited comments about the nice smell. However, it was not very tasty. The noodles were mushy and falling apart, and the sauce was just lacking. Not looking to eating the second one I already purchased. 
  • Butternut Ravioli -- Sounded like a good idea. But, oh boy. Way. Too. Sweet. Mr. RY stopped halfway through dinner and said he would have to finish the rest later. In addition to being too sweet for dinner, it just didn't taste like a pumpkin anymore. Not to mention the pasta was too thick and chewy. Even at $1.99 for 16 ounces, I will never buy again. Totally makes the $5.99/8-ounce pouches at Whole Foods seem worth it.   
  • Kettle Chips -- Yummy! Best thing about Aldi. Good value. Not as delicious as Kettle brand, but the Salt & Pepper, Barbeque, and Jalapeno flavor have been happily consumed in the Random Yummies household. Don't know why we haven't tried the plain (salted) ones yet, but I am sure they are tasty as well. And the price was $1.69 for an ounce bag. 
Non-food items.
  • Had been excited to see that Pumpkins (the Jack O'Lantern variety) were only $2.99 each. Alas, when I located a big crate of moldy (and smelly! rotten!) pumpkins in the store, that was a no-go. 
  • Resealable Food Bags -- Bought resealable sandwich size and quart size freezer bags. Both worked out to be cheaper than Target brand bags. I haven't noticed a difference between the brand name products--certainly nothing affecting their utility. 
  • Aluminum Foil -- Mr. RY thinks it's a bit thinner, but it gets the job done. 
The non-food items seemed like a good value and generally were low risk to purchase. The food items turned out to have a 50/50 chance of being something that seemed decent enough to purchase again. Curious to try their cheese and produce (those things are hard to mess up, right?). Where do you shop when you're looking for the most value?

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Salted Fudge Brownies

I had planned to make cupcakes for bookclub, but a combination of procrastination & laziness changed the plan to brownies. One of the many great things about brownies is that you're likely to have everything in your pantry that you need to bake 'em.

There were no regrets about changing the plan today [from cupcake-making]--these were some of the best brownies I've ever had! If you've never had salted brownies, you must go to your kitchen and make up a batch immediately!

Here's the recipe, from Food & Wine Magazine.

  • 1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter
  • 2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon Maldon sea salt

  • Preheat the oven to 350°. Line a 9-inch square metal cake pan with foil, draping the foil over the edges. Lightly butter the foil.
  • In a large saucepan, melt the butter with the unsweetened chocolate over very low heat, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat. Whisking them in one at a time until thoroughly incorporated, add the cocoa, sugar, eggs, vanilla and flour. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the surface. Sprinkle the salt evenly over the batter. Using a butter knife, swirl the salt into the batter.
  • Bake the fudge brownies in the center of the oven for about 35 minutes, until the edge is set but the center is still a bit soft and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out coated with a little of the batter.
  • Let the brownies cool at room temperature in the pan for 1 hour, then refrigerate just until they are firm, about 1 hour. Lift the brownies from the pan and peel off the foil. Cut the brownies into 16 squares. Serve at room temperature.

According to the original instructions, these brownies can be refrigerated for up to 3 days, and frozen for up to 1 month. But chances are they'll be gone by the end of the first day! I recommend making a double-batch.

Unlike my usual self, I followed the recipe pretty accurately. For the chocolate, I used Endangered Species brand Intense Dark Chocolate with Cocoa Nibs, which has 75% cocoa content. The brownies are sweet, and not overly so. They are gooey and moist (fudey, if you will), with firmer crust & lovely saltiness in each bite.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Hooray for Pizza Day

Homemade pizza is incredibly easy to make, yet pizza-focused restaurants are still a multi-billion dollar industry. While not everyone has 800 degree ovens at home, the pizza that comes out of a standard household kitchen is still a cut above the mass-produced variety.

Making pizza dough is pretty simple, especially with an upright mixer. What's even more simple is that to make a double batch every time--That means every other time you make pizza, all you have to do is remember to take a ball of dough out of the freezer to defrost in time for dinner! In our household, we've found homemade dough to be a lot tastier (not to mention cheaper!) than the crusts you can buy in the grocery store.

When you make your own pizza, your choices for toppings are unlimited! In college, when I would buy frozen pizza, I usually added my own toppings to plain cheese pie to customize to my own tastes. Homemade pizza is like having a blank canvas in front of you! It's easy to accommodate multiple tastes--pineapple and light cheese on one side, mushrooms only one slice... whatever combination/s you can think of can be created at home!

I also find that homemade pizza can be healthier than the store- or restaurant-bought varieties. It's no more difficult to make a whole wheat crust, you don't have to explain to a server that you only want half cheese, can buy better quality ingredients for less, and you can put as many veggies or other healthy toppings on top without the extra fees for each one. I'm not saying homemade pizza is like spa food, but it can certainly be lower in the bad stuff than the processed kind you may otherwise be consuming.

And since some of you were wondering, my homemade pizza pictured above had a base of (veggie) sausage in marinara sauce topped with a layer of sauteed spinach then several dollops of goat cheese and caramelized onions for the finishing touch.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

It started with a cupcake...

Actually, it started with a chocolate chip cookie. My love for the Dessert Gallery, that is.

The Dessert Gallery is a local MBE/WBE (pronounced "Me-Be-We-Be", means a Minority or Woman-owned business enterprise) in Houston that makes the most divine chocolate chip cookies. They aren't really chocolate chip, but more like chocolate slivers. Don't let me fool you into thinking these cookies are skimpy on chocolate because I say they contain "chocolate slivers". In fact, I think the sliver allows for a higher ratio of Chocolate to Cookie than most ordinary chocolate chip cookies. Furthermore, these delights are half-dipped in chocolate for even more sinfulness.

In my 2+ years living in Houston, it's certainly a shame that I didn't try their cupcakes sooner. Well, probably not a shame for my waist or wallet. If you're in H-town and in the mood to satisfy a sweet tooth, check out the Dessert Gallery. If your conscience is too guilty to just have dessert, you can start with one of their sandwiches, which I can also vouch for.

Monday, May 4, 2009

What's a Dutch Baby?

It seems like a self-explanatory question, but who knew that a Dutch Baby is also baked deliciousness?

I was lucky enough to find out thanks to Gourmet magazine and J's impulsive cooking. Usually, I get up with barely enough time to get ready and make it to work on time, so I'm certainly not one who eats hearty breakfasts on weekdays. After discovering the Dutch Baby in Gourmet, J decided he needed to try it, and I got to partake in the goodness. Someone making you a fresh breakfast is indeed a fantastic thing to wake up and discover.

So, what is a Dutch Baby, anyway? Gourmet describes it as "a crossover between a pancake and a popover", and I think they pretty much hit the mark with that description. The crust is hearty, slightly crispy, and sortof durable like a good popover. The center of the Dutch Baby is the pancake portion, but a very dense pancake that's a close cousin to a custard tart or even some cheese pies. The Dutch Baby in question had a wonderfully refreshing lemon flavor, and just the right amount of sugar. And in addition to its tastiness, this breakfast treat is a sight to see as it expands in the oven!

If you haven't experienced a Dutch Baby first hand, now's a good time to spice up your breakfast routine and try something new!