Archive for April, 2008

What I ate for Lunch, 4/27/2008

Tuesday, April 29th, 2008

Salad with fresh, local lettuces (Silver Wheel Farm via Penn’s corner Farm Alliance); balsamic-roasted portobello mushroom (Giant Eagle mushroom simmered on the stovetop in a homemade balsamic vinaigrette featuring rosemary from the plant Aurora managed to overwinter and garlic chives from my garden); two kinds of radishes (Goose Creek Gardens via Penn’s Corner); and thinly sliced carrots(Kretschmann Farm); topped with shaved Montasio cheese (acquired at Pennsylvania Macaroni Company).

Going Old-Fangled with My Wafflemaker

Saturday, April 26th, 2008

Most people who know me know about my obsession with cast iron—it’s sturdy (will last for generations), versatile (equally good on electric, gas, or campfire), almost as non-stick as teflon without the risk of its surface coating flaking off into your food, and economical (many fine specimens are available at antique stores and flea markets for $30 or less).

Still, when I bought my cast iron wafflemaker it was, in my mind, a curiosity piece: an unusual specimen from a bygone era. After all, I had a perfectly good wafflemaker that plugs into the wall and heats predictably, whereas the cast iron piece would have to sit on my burner and would only get heated on one side. As I purchased it, I decided it was a good thing that Aurora wasn’t with me because she probably would have vetoed the $50 price tag (even if she does on occasion talk me into buying pieces of cast iron that I’m on the fence about).

Once I got it home, I discovered how well-designed this antique actually is.


Pastured Pork from Wil-Den Family Farms

Friday, April 25th, 2008

As you approach Wil-Den Family Farms on Sandy Lake Road in Mercer County, PA, you’re immersed in the pastoral landscape of what most people think of when they think of farms: generous doses of green pasture, dotted by grazing cattle (you may even be lucky enough to spot a bison), dotted by the occasional silo and barn.

Turn the corner onto Limber Road, and you’re suddenly confronted by signs of the changes that have transformed similar landscapes across the nation over the course of the past sixty years: “Lot for Sale!” / “Sold!”

When I arrive at the farm, I mention to Denise Brownlee (the -Den half of Wil-Den; her husband, William, is the Wil-) that I noticed they’d be getting some new neighbors. “Well,” she replied, “Those lots have been for sale for a few years and no one has started building yet.” And when they do? “At least we were here first,” she says. “Plus, because our sows are in pasture, they don’t really let off a smell like the big operations do.”

It was through the big operations that the Brownlees got their start with pork. “Bill used to manage a 1000-sow operation in Lebanon County,” Denise tells me. “Nowadays, that would be considered a fairly small operation, but it was pretty big back then.” Rather than make a career of managing confined pork, Bill decided to strike out on his own.


Get the Jerk Chicken

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2008

Last week I enjoyed a reasonable meal at Pepper G’s in homestead; I suspect that Aurora, who ordered the jerk chicken, enjoyed hers more.

We somewhat confounded the waitress by bringing our own napkins and using them instead of the paper napkins (she for some reason seemed to think it was a germophobia thing as opposed to a waste reduction obsession and brought an extra stack of paper napkins to our table despite my protests that we were fine, we’d really prefer not to waste the paper.

When I arrived at the restaurant/bar/jazz lounge (they advertise frequent live music shows), I had already decided, based on reading their menu online, that I would be ordering the ribs. Unfortunately, they no longer had ribs on the print menu or at the restaurant at all. “The last case we ordered spoiled because no one ordered them,” the manager explained after our meal, “so we took them off the menu.”

I decided to go with the curried shrimp; Aurora got the jerk chicken; another of our dining companions got the lemon-pepper chicken. I also got a side of macaroni and cheese.

The curried chicken had a flavorful mix of spices on them. Unfortunately, the chef had ordered the easy-peel shrimp (peel split down the back and the alimentary canal removed, but peel left on; designed to make it easy to peel [hence the name]) and had not removed the peel before she tossed them with the curry. As a result, most of the flavoring got discarded to the side as I had to peel the shrimp before I could eat them.

This problem could be easily rectified: if the chef were to order the pdv (peeled and deveined) shrimp; or to peel the easy-peel shrimp before coating them with spices, this dish would immediately rise in quality from mediocre to pretty darn good. The mac and cheese was obviously homemade and was really quite tasty.

The jerk chicken, on the other hand, is excellent. The chicken is seasoned just right: not too salty, with a good kick of flavor. It’s braised to melt-in-your mouth perfection. It’s perhaps the best jerk chicken I’ve tasted in years.

The lemon-pepper chicken apparently didn’t stack up. Though I didn’t try it, our dining companion was less than satisfied with her meal. “It was good,” she shrugged, non-committedly. This impression was conformed by the manager’s response when he asked us what we ordered. When she said what she got, the manager replied by saying that he gets the jerk chicken.

We opted to sample the mango pie for dessert. The individual, 3-inch round pies are surrounded by a mushy crust and filled with a somewhat bland concoction of mango puree. The crust is their definite weak part. There was no evidence of any crispiness to the crust whatsoever.

Still, I might go back and get me a plate of the jerk chicken and a side of the mac and cheese—really, that’d be a darned fine meal.

If you go, make sure you bring your own cloth napkin. Maybe if they see more people doing so, the idea of not wasting paper will confuse them less.

  • Rating: 2 oranges

Pepper G’s
106 E. 8th Avenue (immediately across the Homestead Grays Bridge)
Homestead, PA 15120
(412) 462-8450

Turner Dairy, Pittsburgh, PA

Thursday, April 17th, 2008

It’s tough to believe how much technology goes into our milk.

Really, it shouldn’t be—we live in an age where we’re guaranteed to be able to get milk in any season, any weather, any size, prepackaged and waiting for us at the corner store. But to be in the processing plant at Turner Dairy as company President Chuck Turner, Jr. (grandson of company founder Charles G. Turner) pushes icons on a touch screen to demonstrate how the processing of any particular product can be maneuvered and controlled from a computerized screen, it’s a vivid reminder that we’re a few steps removed from the farm.

And quite honestly, I think when it comes to milk, that’s probably a good thing—especially if, as is the case with Turner’s milk, you know that the raw material came from a family farm within 67 miles of the processing plant in Penn Hills and was pasteurized, homogenized, packed, and shipped by a business that has been family-run since its inception in 1930.

Today, the business sits in a highly residential area of Penn Hills, though Mr. Turner is quick to point out which part of the community came first. “We didn’t decide to locate a dairy in a neighborhood—they decided to locate a neighborhood inside a dairy farm.” A painting on the wall of Turner’s conference room drives home the point: in the 1930’s, this was still the pastoral landscape we imagine when we think of a dairy farm.


King Corn to Air on PBS Tonight

Tuesday, April 15th, 2008

Did you miss King Corn at the Harris Theater? Don’t worry, here’s your chance to see the movie on the small screen! It will air on PBS’s Independent Lens. In Pittsburgh, the first airing will be tonight, April 15, at 10 PM on WQED, with encore presentations at 3:00 AM and 4:30 AM on April 17, with additional options if you have HD.

If you live outside of Pittsburgh, follow this link to get information about when it will air on your local PBS station.

King Corn is an entertaining way to get a volume of information about the dysfunctional government subsidy program that rewards farmers for growing more corn than we can possibly eat, following much of the same information presented in Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma, but in video format, using an acre plot in Iowa as a case study of how the system works and investigations into why and how it came to be.

Anthony Bourdain’s Drue Heinz Lecture

Thursday, April 10th, 2008

The “Chef as Rock Star” analogy never seemed quite so apt as when Anthony Bourdain stepped onto the stage at the Carnegie Music Hall in Oakland to tumultuous applause and hoots and hollers from the sold-out house. An extremely slender man, he was dressed aggressively casual in skinny jeans worn over cowboy boots and a collared shirt with the top 2 buttons undone. He shunned the podium and paced back and forth across the front of the stage as he gave his talk; it took a few minutes for the spotlight operator to get the appropriate light switched on and illuminate Mr. Bourdain.

I really don’t know what I expected Mr. Bourdain to say, but I’m pretty sure he caught everyone off guard when he opened his lecture by saying, “I don’t think Rachael Ray likes me. I think she’s trying to kill me. I suspect she killed my dog.” But in an instant, any ice was shattered and Mr. Bourdain set off on a very conversational exploration of what it means to be a TV food personality and a reexamination of some of the tenets he set forth in his 2000 book, Kitchen Confidential.


What I Ate for Lunch, 4/5/2008

Saturday, April 5th, 2008

English muffins (from Thomas, who proudly proclaim their product’s newfound lack of high fructose corn syrup) topped with Graviera cheese (from Greece, via Penn Mac), proscuitto (from Parma, who age their proscuitto on site [Penn Avenue in the Strip] for 16 months; its only ingredients are pork, salt, and pepper), eggs over easy (from a small farm in Wexford), minced chives (from my garden, yes spring is arriving!), and accompanied by strawberries (imported from California, and of course lacking in flavor, but what can I say—they were 2 for 1 at the Giant Eagle this week and I’m a sucker for berries).

Six Word Memoir

Friday, April 4th, 2008

Normally, I don’t tend to participate in chain letters, chain emails, or chain gangs. But technically, this is a chain blog, so it doesn’t fit into my pre-established rules. Tommy at Macerating Shallots sent me an email out of the blue challenging me to post a six-word memoir and suggesting that I pass the challenge along to five other web loggers. Something about the challenge intrigued me–is it really possible, I wondered, to sum up my life thus far in only six words?

Actually, yes—it was surprisingly easy. So, here goes—my six word memoir is:

I’ve always enjoyed a good meal.

Photo credits: Jim Sharrard

PLU Codes

Thursday, April 3rd, 2008

PLU codes are the produce look-up codes that every grower, wholesaler, and retailer uses to inventory, stock, ship, and sell their food.  You probably have seen the stickers on the items you buy at the store–the numbers on these stickers are how the foods are tracked.

I just found a site that has an alphabetical listing of all PLU codes.  You’d think something like that would be somewhat dry reading, but surprisingly it’s quite interesting: while many of the items are fruits and vegetables that I know well and am quite familiar with, others are completely foreign to me.  When I come across one of those items (like cherimoya, feijoa, gobo root, or homli fruit [no image found; if you know anything about this one, please let me know]), I type it into an image search and track down some information about it.  It’s kind of cool to see how many different things are out there.  Try it, it’s fun!