Vote CKPgh for Google Impact Award

March 8th, 2018

Community Kitchen Pittsburgh is a Hazelwood-based nonprofit that provides hands-on training to adults with barriers to employment to help them gain culinary skills and work experience as a bridge to stable employment and a living wage.  The organization has been awarded $50,000 from Google to further its work and is eligible for an additional $50,000 if it comes out tops in an online vote that ends on March 14.  Your click can help,

Why should you support Community Kitchen for this money?

So, there’s been a lot of stuff in the news lately about the opioid crisis.  I’d like you to think in specific terms about how a person could be affected by drug use or the drug trade–and how Community Kitchen can help change their prospects.

Imagine being the person who got hooked on opioids after a serious injury led a doctor to prescribing you some heavy duty pain killers.  Your supply runs out, one thing leads to another and next thing you know, you’re out of a job, out of a house, out of money and hooked on heroin in a scenario that you always imagined you’d be immune to.

Maybe you get nabbed on drug posession and you do a stint in jail.  We’ll just gloss over that year, because it really sucks.  But coming out isn’t the grand release that you thought it would be.  You’re stuck in a halfway house.  Nobody wants to give you a job because of your record and your gap in employment history.  You’re going to meetings and doing well.  But, when your stay at the halfway house comes due, your prospects for something better are not coming up the way you thought they’d be.  And, because your conviction was for drugs, you can’t even qualify for federal financial aid to go back to school to learn new skills.

Restaurants are booming in Pittsburgh, but culinary schools are not.  Restaurants have a shortage of workers.  This means that they are paying more to keep the workers they have and always trying to recruit new people to work their lines.  And, most restaurants will give people with convictions a second chance.  If only you had any culinary experience, maybe you could land one of these jobs.

That’s where Community Kitchen Pittsburgh comes in.  With scholarships for all students to offset all training costs, Community Kitchen provides students with a 12-week, intensive program of classes and support to gain the skills they need to land a skilled entry-level position as a prep cook.  They offer help to find housing and a job, and support services to help overcome the other barriers you face.  Students prepare school lunches, meals for homeless shelters, and food for catered events while they learn the ins and outs of working in a commercial kitchen.

All of this adds up to real support to help people who find themselves in situations they never imagined would happen to them, pick themselves up and move forward toward a brighter future.

Support Community Kitchen Pittsburgh with your vote today.  Click

The Same Cake?

February 28th, 2018

My mom and I have an ongoing discussion about what it means to follow a recipe.

She says, when you follow a recipe, you follow each step; no variation, no substitutions.  Otherwise, you’re not cooking that recipe.

I say, recipes are strong guides.  But, you might be short of something or in the mood for a little twist.  So, make educated substitutions and alterations to fit your needs.

This topic came up again last weekend when I made one of my mom’s pound cake recipes for dinner.  Or did I?

I’ll let you decide.  Either way you decide to make this cake, it is both easy to throw together and a treat to eat!

My mom’s pound cake (with my variations)

  • 2.25 cups flour
  • 2 cups sugar (brown sugar)
  • 0.5 tsp baking soda
  • 0.5 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla (rum.  and let’s face it, I didn’t measure, I just tipped the bottle for what looked right)
  • 1 cup softened butter
  • 1 cup sour cream (I didn’t have any.  I had 0.75 cup plain, full fat yogurt.  I figured this would give the acidity the baking powder needs for leavening.  I added 0.25 cup heavy cream so I’d have the 1 cup and also for fat content)
  • 3 eggs
  • (cinnamon)
  1. Combine all ingredients in a bowl and use an electric mixer to blend for about 3 minutes.  Pour into a greased and floured bundt pan and bake at 325 degrees F for 60-65 minutes or until the top springs back when touched lightly in the center (took closer to 70).
  2. Let cool in the pan for 10 minutes then invert onto a plate.  Pour butter glaze over it while it’s still warm.

Butter glaze

  • 0.25 cup melted butter
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 0.5 tsp vanilla (rum)
  • (up to) 2 Tbl water to adjust consistency
  • (nutmeg)

So, this is where following the recipe exactly steered me wrong… I added the 2 Tbl water all at once and it got way too thin.  Add the water slowly, a bit at a time.  It should be thick enough to drizzle over the cake and run down the sides, but not gloopy.

Some of it will run into the center and pool around the outside of the cake.  My siblings and I would run our fingers through this before dinner to taste the frosting; and at dessert, my grandfather would fish it out to spread on top of his piece (and share with us as well).

This really was a nice cake.  Even my mom had to admit it.  “But if you put my cake and this one side by side,” she said, “someone would have a hard time telling they came from the same recipe.”

What I’ve Been Cooking Lately

February 22nd, 2018

Professionally, I’ve been navigating USDA requirements for meat analogues for school lunch programs and trying to work out a recipe that would be accepted by a state monitor as having sufficient protein quantity at an acceptable pdcaas digestibility score.  Fascinating stuff.  Mainly for how difficult it becomes to serve neither meat nor processed foods to vegetarian school children.  But also mentally exhausting, which is one big reason that I don’t write much here anymore…

The personal stuff is quite a bit more fun, particularly when the kids decide that they want to cook with me.

Faraday is about to turn 4, and tends to cook with me quite a bit.  He can clean mushrooms with a brush and pick leaves off of fresh herbs, but he’s mainly there for the tasting privileges that come with helping me in the kitchen.  I’ll take what I can get.

When we’re in the kitchen, he tells me, “You’re the chef and I’m the cook.”

“What’s the cook’s job?” I ask him.

“To do whatever the chef says.”

I’ve got him trained well.  At least in the kitchen.  Outside of the kitchen, I cease being the chef and he ceases to see his job as being to do whatever I say.

Angstrom is 7.6667, and starting to come into his own when he wants to help.  He’s usually more interested in reading, which is also a fine activity.  But, as he’s getting older, he is becoming an actual help.  I can give him a block of cheese and a grater and he’ll turn it into shredded cheese for us.  He’s also starting to get the hang of using the knife that I got him (perhaps a bit prematurely) for his 6th birthday.  I still keep an eye on him to make sure he’s got his thumb and fingers out of the way, but he does a fine job slicing mushrooms on his own.

He also has been interested in making sure I write down my recipes.  That can be tough because so often I am just reaching into the fridge to take what we happen to have and turn it into dinner.  We won’t necessarily have the same leftovers the next time, so the recipes may not be re-creatable.  Not to mention the fact that I so rarely measure.

But… I did make a very nice cheddar, broccoli, and potato soup the other day that he asked me to document.  So, because Janice asked what I’ve been cooking and Angstrom wants me to preserve my recipes, here is the best I can do on that front:

Loaded Baked Potato Soup

  • Bacon Grease leftover from cooking a metric s*it ton of bacon for brunch.  Not all of it.  Probably about 1/3 cup.  Maybe a half of a cup.  A good knob’s worth scooped out of the custard dish of bacon grease with my favorite wooden spoon.
  • Garlic, sliced thinly.  A bulb’s worth.  (bulbs seem to be about the right unit to measure in.  Never trust a recipe that calls for 1-2 cloves of garlic)
  • Flour, sufficient to make a roux the consistency of wet sand.  Add slowly as described below.
  • Stock.  I’m not sure if it was chicken or vegetable.  Either would work.  Probably about 2 cups; I had about half of one of the boxes from the supermarket leftover.  Lately, I’ve been partial to whatever brand is low in sodium and labeled “cooking stock”, though I really should make my own.
  • Milk, about 3-4 cups, I think?  1%.
  • Leftover roasted potatoes and broccoli, from the same brunch that you cooked the bacon for.  Probably about 4 cups combined of those?  All of the broccoli that was left and most of the potatoes.
  • Cheese.  A mix of 3-year-old Vermont white cheddar and supermarket meunster.  There might have been some parmesan in the mix, too.  2.5 cups, shredded?
  • Spices.  Definitely black pepper.  I probably used Aleppo pepper, too.  If you don’t have any, I highly recommend getting some right away.  Penzey’s sells it.  So does the random multi-ethnic grocery store I shopped in Temeculah, CA once.  So there are probably some other sources, too.  And I bet I used some nutmeg, but only a touch.
  • Herbs.  Thyme, oregano.  Basil?  Whatever you like.  Sage.
  1. Saute the garlic in the bacon fat.  When it just starts to turn golden brown,
  2. Stir the flour in slowly until the roux gets to the consistency of wet sand.  When in doubt, stop adding flour but keep stirring.  If it looks too loose, add some more.  Go ahead and crack your pepper into here, too.  Keep on stirring the roux until the garlic encased therein has mellowed to a gorgeous golden color.
  3. Whisk in the stock, followed by the milk.  Break up the lumps, scrape the corners with your wooden spoon.  Whisk some more.  That’s it, looking good there now.
  4. Let it simmer for a bit.  15-20 minutes out to do to let the flour cook out.  Add the potatoes.  Some of their starch will cook out and add to the consistency of the soup.  Let it simmer another 15-20.
  5. How’s the consistency?  If it’s too thick, go ahead and add some milk.  If not, add the broccoli.  And if you add milk, go ahead and add the broccoli, too.
  6. When it all comes up to temp, drop that heat back way down to low.  Stir the cheese in, slowly now.  Let it melt before you add more, just a handful at a time.
  7. Taste it.  Adjust seasonings.  It very well could benefit from some salt.  I swear by Diamond Crystal kosher salt for most purposes, but it irks me that they eliminated the metal pour spout from their 3-pound box.  Now, every time I fill up my little salt dish, I have to tape the cardboard flap back closed with masking tape.  But it’s still fine salt nonetheless.
  8. Tell everyone it’s time to come to the table.  Get ignored.  Walk into the dining room and discover that the table isn’t even set yet.  Make a Pinky & the Brain reference about how it’s the same thing every night, you’ve got to set the table for dinner.  Listen to some griping as the kids get the bowls put around the table.
  9. Wait for one of the kids to go to the bathroom.  Once he comes down, wait some more because the other one will realize that he also urgently needs to go.  Maybe turn the heat back on under the soup while you’re waiting so it doesn’t get too cold.
  10. Wait, what, is everyone here?  Did you wash your hands when you finished in the bathroom?  Did you do an adequate job?  Okay, dinner is served.


February 13th, 2018

So, back in 2006, I was featured in a 2-artist show at a gallery in Lawrenceville and haven’t shown any artwork publicly since.  Seeing as I’m not doing much of anything with this page, I figured I’d put up a couple of shots for the 3 people who still have this on their RSS Feed (hi, Janice!)

Back in 1997, I had an idea that I could paint in words.  I’ve been spending the odd evening since sometime in 2000 trying to follow through on the concept.  Here are 2 of my more recent works; click on any thumbnail for a larger image:

All Your Life, You Were Only Waiting For This Moment To Arrive

Personal reflections in swirls of color; a blackbird emerges from the center, ready to take flight.

24″ x 30″, oil on canvas,

2018, available

Fuck You Warhol, You Never Even Liked This Town

Musings on Warhol’s tendency to settle for 65% of an idea (peeing on metal) instead of taking it all the way there (peeing on metal to make a picture) and also thoughts on how fervently the city Warhol rejected (Pittsburgh) has adopted him as their own.  The end result, a cityscape of Pittsburgh as viewed from the North Side.

24″ x 30″, oil on canvas

2017, on hold

Ceramic Face Bowls

In addition to painting, I sculpt in clay.  My work in this medium tends to consist of whimsical faces built into the side of hand-thrown bowls.  Decorations come from multiple clay bodies being built together; all work is unglazed.  Samples shown below are all approximately 6″ in diameter and 3″ high.

2017, stoneware, available

Hot Water Crust Meat Pie

April 28th, 2017

So, apparently it’s a British thing… I had never heard of a hot water crust until I started watching the Great British Baking Show.  But, in the first season, the contestants were challenged to do a 3-tiered pie and I was amazed to see them unmold pies from springform pans and stack them on top of each other for service, so I figured I’d give it a try.

I’ve got to say, I was somewhat uncertain about trying the hot water crust based on what Cook’s Illustrated has to say on the topic of this kind of crust: “When we compared a hot-water crust in several recipes…with our Foolproof Pie Dough… we understood why it might not have been eaten in the past. …[S]ome tasters called it “mealy”…. While a hot-water crust is simple to prepare and easy to work with, stick with our Foolproof Pie Dough if you want pastry worth eating.”

Having taken their opinion into account, though, I checked out a few British sources for an authentic recipe and settled on one from the BBC, though, of course, I didn’t follow it precisely.

  1. I rendered beef suet to use in the crust, because I was out of fat back to render for lard and also because I was making a beef pot pie.
  2. I cut the amount of suet used in half and substituted butter for the other half because I was concerned that 100% beef fat would be too much.
  3. I added some salt, hers, and spices to the recipe to add some flavor in (and perhaps battle against the shortcomings that Cook’s Illustrated perceived).
The end result was good.  It was a bit mealy, but I think that’s okay for a savory pie.  The crust baked up crisp on all sides, and the pie unmolded from the springform pan quite easily, straight from the oven.  The pieces held their form when cut, and the overall result was quite pleasing.
In case you’d like to give it a try, here’s the general recipe I followed.  SO sorry to give the figures in grams, but that’s the Brits (and the rest of the world) for you, they follow this crazy thing called the metric system that no one outside of a lab around here seems to have any use for :)
Pie Crust
  • 100g Beef Fat (or Lard)
  • 100g Butter
  • 220mL Water (I measured in grams on my scale)
  • 575g All Purpose Flour
  • 1 tsp Kosher Salt
  • Herbs (oregano, marjoram, thyme)
  • Spices (Aleppo Pepper, Garlic Powder, Paprika)
  • 4 quarts combined leftovers from a roast beef and roasted vegetable dinner, including about a cup of croutons, and moistened with a bit of tomato juice.
  • Next time I do this, I am leaning toward using braised, shredded meat instead of roasted meat.  Either will work just fine, though.
  1. Preheat oven to 375.
  2. Combine butter, animal fat, and water in a saucepan.  Bring to a boil.
  3. Meanwhile, measure dry ingredients into a large bowl.
  4. Pour hot water and fat mixture into the flour mixture.  Combine with a wooden spoon and then turn out onto a lightly floured surface.  Knead until smooth.
  5. Cut 1/4 of the dough off for the top crust, then roll the rest out into a large circle.  It will not roll like a normal pie crust, but rather has an almost bready consistency.  I had a bit of an issue getting it to pick up and transfer without tearing; I might try putting down a bit more flour before rolling next time.
  6. Transfer the bottom crust to a 24″ springform pan.  Lift the edges and fit it into the bottom of the dish all the way around.  Cur some scraps from the edges and press in to patch any holes that develop.
  7. Press your 4 quarts of filling into the pan.  Roll out the top crust, place on top, and fold the bottom crust up over the top and crimp closed to guard against leaks (Paul and Mary don’t want the pie to have any leaks).  Cut some vent holes in the top.  From what I can tell, one centrally placed hole is typical for the Brits; sometimes they will use a cinnamon stick as the vent (and, one would assume, to impart flavor into the pie as it bakes)
  8. Bake for about 30 minutes at 375, then drop the temperature to 350 and bake for another 60.
  9. When the crust has developed an attractive golden brown and the pie is baked all the way through, set it on a raised surface (such as a jar) and release it from the springform pan.  Slide onto a plate or cutting board for service.

Food TV Worth Watching

April 26th, 2017

I’m normally not one for cooking shows.

I don’t particularly like to watch someone get yelled at for not having food ready on time or for it not being up to par.  If I wanted to experience that, I’d still be working at {redacted}.  And, when I watch main courses, I usually wind up heckling my TV screen, telling it that whoever is on screen cooking is doing it wrong.

So, I was somewhat skeptical when my friend Sara suggested I check out the Great British Bake Off.  ”It’s really fun,” she said.  ”They make this amazing stuff, and it’s still high pressure, but because it’s British, everyone is very polite about everything.”

She’s right.

I mean, I don’t know what I would think if I were a pastry chef (I still might wind up heckling the screen).  But since I am largely inexperienced when it comes to the realm of baking, I wind up taking notes about what I see on screen.  Homemade phyllo?! Tips for making puff pastry! Wait, are they making English muffins from scratch?

And, the judges, while tough, are very even-tempered and level headed.  There might be a few tears at the end of each challenge; but no one can ever say that they’ve been mistreated.  It’s charming, really.

And, I’ve been inspired to bake different things than I might otherwise.  Last night, for instance, I did a braided yeast bread with dried cherries in one of the braids, raisins in the second, and dried cranberries in the third.  I never would’ve conceived of that 3 weeks ago.

Apparently, the BBC favorite was picked up by PBS in 2014 and has become incredibly popular in the meantime.  For those of us who are slow on the uptake, though, you can binge watch on Netflix.

On your marks, get set, BAKE!

Bloody Mary Beef Barbecue

February 28th, 2017

This is a super-easy recipe and it works with any cut of braising beef.  I usually use chuck roast, but have done it with brisket, rump roast, and shanks as well.

  • 1 (3-ish pound) chuck roast
  • 2 (28-ounce) cans tomato product: I like 6-in-1 Ground Tomato Product, but crushed, diced, or sauce will all work fine
  • 1/2 small jar prepared horseradish.  Not the creamed stuff.
  • Herbs and Spices to taste: salt, pepper, aleppo pepper, oregano or marjoram, basil, thyme, +/- other spices depending on your mood and tastes; plus one dash of cloves
  • Seasoned salt for seasoning the meat
  1. Rub the meat on both sides with your favorite seasoned salt mix (I make my own each time and finagle it to taste).
  2. Choose a pan that you can cover.  I usually use a cast iron pot, but lately have been using a 6-inch deep 1/2 hotel pan because I’ve been making double or triple batches.
  3. Pour a little of the tomato mix into the bottom of the pan, put the meat in that, and then cover with the rest of the tomato mix.
  4. Put in a 250-degree oven for about 6 hours or until it shreds easily.
  5. Pull the meat from the sauce and put the sauce on the stove to reduce and thicken while you shred the meat.
  6. Shred the meat (removing any bones, fat, and/or connective tissue).
  7. Toss meat with sauce.  Use any leftover sauce as a delicious soup base.
This meal is the start of Radiatore Angstromi Pasta!  It takes very little time, and because the meat can so easily be cooked from frozen, you only have to plan 6-7 hours in advance of when you want to eat (assuming you’ve got some sort of a pot roast in your freezer to cook).
Caveats: Thicker cuts of beef may take longer to cook.  It’s ok to bump the heat up to 275 or 300 if you want to decrease the cooking time.  You can use this same concept with any sort of liquid sauce; the important part to understand here is using long, low, moist heat on cuts of meat that have more connective tissue (here is a card I did for Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank that shows which cuts of beef these are).  As the Beastie Boys once said, “Let it flow, let yourself go, slow and low: that is the tempo!”

The media are the friend of the people

February 25th, 2017

Not that this has anything to do with cooking, but for whatever it is worth, I find the rhetoric coming from our president incredibly frightening.  The news media has always played an important role in keeping the public informed about the goings on of the world.  I am glad that they continue to do their jobs and to bring facts to light.  It is complete insanity to block reporters from respected an legitimate news organizations from a briefing.  It is up to every one of us to stand up for the truth and for the reporting thereof in any way we can.

I could never bring the point home as well as John Oliver does in this clip, Trump vs. The Truth:

Please watch, please share, please buy newspapers, please speak out in any way you can against the dangerous rhetoric spouted by the liar in chief.

Radiatori Angstromi

November 21st, 2016

(Radiator Pasta in Angstrom Sauce)

One of the first things I learned when I worked at Lidia’s was that pasta sauce can encompass a whole range of possibilities beyond tomato, alfredo, or cheese.  So long as there’s some liquid component to tie everything together, pasta can serve as a vehicle for all kinds of flavors.

This recipe was a huge hit with the whole family, especially Angstrom.  It was when he ladled his third helping onto his plate that I realized it was a real winner and probably deserved to be written down.  Because his enthusiasm prompted me to write it down, I’ve named it in his honor.


  • 1 large onion
  • about 2 cups finely chopped mushrooms (I used a mix of maitake and crimini)
  • 1 leftover baked sweet potato
  • about 2 cups leftover pot roast, with its liquid
  • 1/4 leftover roasted cabbage
  • chicken stock as needed to adjust consistency
  • Salt and pepper
  • butter


  1. Make a pot roast dinner, with baked sweet potatoes and roasted cabbage as the side dishes.  Save the leftovers at the end of the meal
  2. Dice an onion and cook it in butter in a #10 cast iron skillet with salt, pepper, and aleppo pepper, stirring occasionally for 5-10 minutes or until it has started to take on some golden brown.
  3. Push the onion to the outside of the pan and add a bit more butter to the well in the center.  Add diced mushrooms with a pinch more salt.  Cook, stirring occasionally (after initial browning period, they can be stirred in with the onions), for 10-15 minutes or until they have taken on some golden brown.
  4. Deglaze the pan with some bourbon.
  5. Add diced or mashed sweet potato, sliced cabbage, pot roast, and chicken stock (about 1 cup) to the pan.  Stir together and let simmer while the pasta cooks.  Adjust the consistency as needed with more chicken stock and/or some of the salted cooking water from the pasta.  (This is a trick I learned from Lidia’s—the starch that cooks out of the pasta helps to thicken the sauce and the water helps to thin it out.  I know it sounds weird to go after both ends of the spectrum at once, but it really does work)
  6. I used radiatori pasta because the grooves in the pasta help to pick up the sauce and the flavor.  It would also go well with fusilli or a wide ribbon like papparadelle.

I Catch Up with the Mainstream

November 14th, 2016

Nine years ago, back before either of my kids had even been imagines, and I had all the time in the world; in a post most notable for its grammatically-correct use of five punctuation marks in a row, I had indicated that I saw very rare use for a garlic press.

I stuck by my guns for quite some time, and have gotten quite adept at peeling and mincing garlic, but I am coming around to where the mainstream has been for quite some time: it really does make things quicker and easier to crush garlic with a press than it does to peel and slice by hand.

One thing I have discovered, though, is that rather than crush the garlic directly into the frying pan, it makes a lot more sense to crush into a prep bowl.  That way, you have all the time you need to crush (in my case, at least) a dozen or two cloves of garlic for whatever you’re cooking, without the first garlic into the pan burning before the last clove is crushed.

When it comes to garlic presses, though, I am on the quest for the best press.  Mine is fine, it does the job; but I feel like there might be a better option out there.  The brief research I have done so far shows a huge range of prices, from less than $5 to just about $45.  I checked Cooks Illustrated, hoping for a budget-friendly option, but they recommend a $40 model.  This seems like a steep investment, and so I hold out hope that there is a less-expensive but highly-functioning option out there somewhere.

Lacking the budget to buy and test all of them, please leave a comment to let me know if you have any recommendations (for or against) a particular brand, source, or style.  I’ll aim to identify a few different options and give them a whirl to see how my current model stacks up against others’ favorites.