Wednesday, June 29, 2016

3 Nights! A Justin Severino Pittsburgh Tour de Force



We've had quite a depth of Beard nominees here in the 'Burgh for the last several years.  Justin Severino has been nominated three times for Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic. Justin's newest restaurant, Morcilla, received a nomination this year for Best New Restaurant in the country. Jamilka Borges, now of Spoon, and Sonja Finn of Dinette have both been nominated for Rising Star of the Year, as well as Trevett Hooper, of Legume, having been nominated for Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic in 2013. 

And when it comes to local restaurants and restaurant groups, James Beard accolades have been sprinkled across the local landscape pretty liberally as well. The Big Burrito Group's Bill Fuller and Tom Baron have been nominated for Outstanding Restrauteur and Butcher and the Rye was nominated for Outstanding Bar Program in 2014. Pittsburgh represents!

As a result of Pittsburgh's wealth of food and cocktail professionals and programs, last week saw the second James Beard Foundation Celebrity Chef Tour dinner to be held right here in Pittsburgh. My friend Marti (from Maryland) and I were there last year for the inaugural event, and she made the trip again this year to make it two in a row for us both.



How did we make this year's James Beard Dinner even more memorable than last? By turning it into a three-day-Justin-Severino-tour-de-force. That's right, we constructed a sort of Justin-Severino-themed-dining-sandwich consisting of a Monday at Morcilla, a Tuesday filling of James Beard, and a Wednesday finale of Cure. Three days, man! This is how it went...first up, Monday at Morcilla.

What better way to begin than some of the best Gin & Tonics in town?!

Foreground: Edwards Surryano ham with pecans and pecan oil. A true find! Background: Manchego with Seville sour orange, olive oil, and roasted garlic. There were Patatas Bravas with a divine pimenton aioli to round out the feast, too, that didn't make the pic.

Tuesday. The BIG day of our second James Beard Foundation Celebrity Chef Tour dinner in Pittsburgh...the meat of this dining tour sandwich you might say. We couldn't wait to see what awaited this year.  

The Chefs


Last year's venue was the Heinz History Museum in the Strip District. This year the event was held at the Mattress Factory on the North Side. Justin's and his wife Hilary's choice to hold the events at Pittsburgh museums is spot on. The food itself is art.

Outdoors under grand tents, the evening started with lovely and tasty bites provided by Sonja Finn, Kate Romaine of E2, Trevett Hooper, Bill Fuller, and Curtis Gamble of Station. Cocktails created and provided by Morcilla, Cure, and Aldine were a refreshing start given the heat of the evening. Alas, there is but one lone, but beautiful, pic!

Grilled Pacific Oysters with ramp butter and hot sauce by Sonja Finn of Dinette.



On to the main event under the big tent!

The beet appetizer by George Sabatino of Aldine - Beets, whipped yogurt, pickled garlic, chili jam, and puffed beet crackers
  
Cobia by Greg Vernick of Vernick Food & Drink - Cobia, pickled corn, burnt vegetable salsa, cilantro cream

Unfortunately, the photos were less than stellar from that point on due to the onset of darkness and the blue lighting under the tent. Although the lighting faded, the food continued to shine. Justin's Foie Blonde dazzled! With strawberry rhubarb jam, candied pistachios, dehydrated black olives and lovage, the flavors burst! 

The aroma of roasting duck wound it's way throughout the anxiously awaiting throngs of diners, tempting us before Scott Drewno (Executive Chef from The Source by Wolfgang Puck) presented his Roast Pekin Duck with crushed peanut curry and candied lemongrass. One word. Wow!

Not to be outdone, next up was Squirrel Hill native son Michael Solomonov with succulent roasted beef short ribs, green chickpeas, tehina and matbucha that seriously simply melted away on your tongue. 

Dessert? Of course it lived up to the excellence and deliciousness of the courses that preceded. We were each presented with an individual cardboard pint ice cream container containing the classic Neopolitan flavors of strawberry, chocolate and vanilla creams interpreted to a whole new level. We were all sent out with not only memories of the sweetness of dessert, but of the magnificence of the evening.

Then came Wednesday. Our final celebration of Severino Days ending at Cure. And we hated to see our Pittsburgh ultra fine dining adventure come to a close.

Naturally, we started with a toast!

Worthy of being painted, next was the Coho Salmon Crudo on foccaccia toast, avocado, black garlic, preserved lemon, dehydrated red onion and dill. 


Some of the staff remembered us from the previous night's bash and we shared it was our third night in a row of celebrating Justin Severino. Who knew a little surprise would arrive at our table?!

A delicate puff of green cardamom, black olive, and a sprinkling of crisp catnip awaits.
Strawberry gazpacho is poured over the foam to create a symphony of texture and flavor!

The finale? Salumi. Yes, our dessert this night was MEAT! 
There couldn't be a more suitable ending to our Severino Celebration than ending where it all began for Chef Severino...with meat. 

What will next year bring? Can't wait to find out - not just for next year's James Beard dinner, but to see what is on the horizon for Pittsburgh's culinary and cocktail world. Look for exciting things, people! 



Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Jamaica Mon Coffee Rum & Tonic



Imagine your favorite iced coffee and an ice cold Coke had a baby...a Caribbean baby, baby! There's no doubt my Jamaica Mon Coffee Rum & Tonic was partially inspired by Hidden Harbor's new icy, slushy, frozen coffee/banana/rum and spice delight, the Oka Kope Kooler...it's my current tiki crush at Squirrel Hill's hot spot. 

Hidden Harbor's Oka Kope Kooler 

Then, too, Alton Brown recently posted a recipe for his cola syrup; I whipped up a batch of AB's syrup and got down to some serious testing.

What resulted was a tall, crisp, little-bit-sparkly summertime refresher with a good buzz of caffeine (via the coffee and cola), and a light kiss of chocolate courtesy of the bitters. Notes of cola spices, a wee touch of coconut, a little tartness of lime and a finish of summery not-just-for-gin tonic might lift your weary spirit from the shores of the Mon to the soothing turquoise waters and white sands of a beach somewhere in faraway Jamaica. 

Why Jamaica Mon? Because Jamaican rum. And Pittsburgh's own MON-ongahela!


Jamaica Mon Coffee Rum & Tonic

  • 2 oz Appleton Estate Reserve Blended rum
  • 1 oz St. George NOLA Coffee Liqueur (this isn't easy to find, so feel free to use your favorite coffee liqueur)
  • 3/4 oz Mexican Coca Cola syrup (see recipe below)
  • 1 barspoon cream of coconut - or 1/2 t.
  • 7 drops Fee Brothers Aztec Chocolate bitters
  • Fever Tree Lite Tonic
  • lime wedge
  • lime peel garnish
  • a grating of nutmeg

In a cocktail shaker, combine rum, coffee liqueur, coca cola syrup and cream of coconut. Dry shake. Add ice and shake again until tin is frosted. Strain into an ice filled glass, add the bitters, stir gently, then top with tonic and a squeeze of lime. Stir gently again.

Garnish with lime peel and a grating of nutmeg.

Alton Brown's Cola Syrup

  • 12 oz bottle Mexican Coca Cola - find it at Reyna's in the Strip District
  • 1 C demerara sugar - believe it or not, Giant Eagle carries it
In a small saucepan, bring the Coke to a boil. Add the demerara sugar and stir until the sugar is completely dissolved. 

Cool and store in a covered container (I use a Mason jar) in the fridge.


Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Grilled Chicken, Feta, Spinach Slider Skewers






Looking for something just a little different on the grill the other day, I put together this Greek-inspired dinner. It was almost a complete dinner-on-the-grill meal with the veggie skewers I grilled at the same time. Well, I did have to make classic Greek tzatziki to spoon over the sliders. Because tzatziki!

What makes these sliders a little bit Greek? Feta cheese for starters...and the classic Greek flavors of lemon, oregano, and garlic with some fresh spinach for color and juiciness. In fact, if you think of ground chicken as lacking in moisture, this is just the mixture to dispell that thought. Tangy feta, tart lemon, earthy oregano, zippy garlic and green spinach make these sliders a burger mixture you and your guests will really enjoy!

If you can find long, flat bamboo skewers, they are the best! Burgers, sliders, meatballs or whatever you skewer and grill stays put instead of rolling around a round skewer making it a pain to easily get nice grill marks on both sides. Look at the grill marks in the pic! These are so easy to turn and flip, I'm picking up a new supply when I get to World Market in Michigan next month. 

To serve, tuck a slider into a wedge of toasted pita or onto a slider bun, garnish with grilled veggies and slather with a healthy helping of cucumber-y, minty tzatziki. Eat. Repeat!


Grilled Chicken, Feta, Spinach Slider Skewers

  • 1 lb ground chicken breast
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 C fresh spinach, finely chopped
  • 1 slice firm white bread (like Pepperidge Farm), made into fine crumbs - I used Whole Foods Light White bread to make this gluten free
  • 3/4 C feta cheese, crumbled
  • 1 1/2 T freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 t dried oregano
  • 2 t Jane's Crazy Mixed Up salt (or other seasoned salt)
  • lots of freshly ground black pepper

Mix all together well, but lightly. Form into 6 flat patties. Refrigerate at least an hour before inserting skewers - or skip the skewers and just make burgers. Grill until cooked thoroughly - no pink chicken, please!

Serve with your favorite grilled veggies - I served zucchini, red onions, red and yellow peppers. And tzatziki!


Tzatziki

  • 1 seedless English cucumber, grated - don't peel an English cucumber, the color in the tzatziki is gorgeous! (if you use regular cucumbers, peel them because the ones from the grocery store are usually waxed)
  • 2 C plain, low fat yogurt (I use Fage 0% Greek yogurt)
  • 1 T olive oil
  • 1 T red wine vinegar
  • Jane's Crazy Mixed Up Salt, to taste
  • lots of fresh ground black pepper
  • 1 t fresh mint leaves, finely minced
  • 1 small clove garlic, minced
Drain the liquid from the grated cucumber, then mix all ingredients together in a large bowl. Chill until serving time.

NOTE: I usually buy the yogurt in quart sized containers and use the whole container to make a double batch of tzatziki. Nighttime snack attacks become healthy and low cal...as long as you're not dipping potato chips into it!


Wednesday, June 1, 2016

R(h)um And Rhubarb Cocktails - By The Batch






Deck drinks time is here! FINALLY. Holy hell, what's the point of enduring months of cold, snow, freezing rain and just plain miserably gray days if it isn't time to get our butts out into sun and warm, gentle breezes? 

And as long as we're out there, why not celebrate the occasion with a cocktail that is simply, perfectly in season? Better yet, make a batch of this cocktail base ahead of time. Why? More time in the sun instead of in the kitchen!

Right now, rhubarb is fresh from the fields and you'll find it all over local farmers markets and grocery stores. If you're lucky, you have some growing in your own backyard or even in a generous neighbor's backyard. In my old neighborhood, right around the corner, a neighbor used to heap piles of beautiful ruby red stalks on a picnic table by the road. We customers picked up fresh from the garden bundles of the spring delight and left our money in the box provided. Couldn't get any fresher than that!

Since the season is so short, I buy and use rhubarb as soon as I see it. This year, a big batch of rhubarb simple syrup for richly tart, sweet and sparkly cocktails was on the top of the list. Next I made a refreshing rhubarb shrub...also for cocktails. Finally, there will be a rhubarb upsidedown cake and maybe even strawberry rhubarb shortcake to round out my rhubarb list for this year. 

But first, let's just pull up a comfy lounge chair on the deck or the balcony and simply enjoy a damned fine cocktail. Cheers!


Rhum and Rhubarb Cocktails - By The Batch

Cocktail base:

  • 3/4 C rhubarb simple syrup (recipe follows)
  • 1/2 C fresh lemon juice
  • 1/3 C Barbancourt Rhum from Haiti 
  • 1/3 C Koloa dark rum from Hawaii

In a glass pitcher, mix the above ingredients. Chill.

When it's cocktail time, fill a glass with ice, pour the cocktail base halfway up the glass and top with Sanpellegrino limonata and 6-8 drops of Bittermens Elemakule tiki bitters. Pretty it up with a decorative paper straw and a fun stirrer, sit back, relax, and enjoy!

Rhubarb Simple Syrup 

  • 1 C sugar
  • 1 C water
  • 3 C thinly sliced fresh rhubarb (be sure NOT to use any leaves - they are poisonous!) 

In a medium heavy bottomed pot, bring the water and sugar to a boil. Once all the sugar is dissolved, slowly add rhubarb to the liquid. Stir until the rhubarb wilts down, then simmer 20-30 minutes. Cool. 

When cool, strain the mixture into a large container, then carefully pour the pretty pink liquid into a quart Mason jar and cover. 

Don't throw the solids out! Use those to top ice cream. Yum!

NOTE: Store any leftover cocktail base in a covered jar in the fridge. You can double the base recipe easily, just be sure to use a bigger pot!





Thursday, May 12, 2016

Pickled Jalapeno Avocado Potato Salad





What do you serve with Mexican or Southwestern main dishes? Refried beans? Rice? Green salad? Or maybe something a little unexpected?

Now that warmer weather is here...for the moment again, anyway...I decided to accompany black bean tostadas with something just a bit more summery. Not potato salad, not even guacamole, but a fresh take on the old salad standby that's kind of a mashup of both. With a big kick of heat!

The idea came about by accident when I'd tried a batch of jalapeno pickled eggs. The results were okay, but not what I was looking for exactly. I had this big jar of pickled jalapenos and onions leftover that I couldn't bear to just toss in the disposal. So I got busy and came up with this spicy twist on a standard.

Just a bit of advice. Taste your pickled jalapenos before you decide what quantity to use in the potato salad. Some brands are hotter than others. I've found the Old El Paso brand is comparatively mild (to my heat loving tastebuds, anyway), so I used the full cup. If you like more cilantro, use more...if you don't like it at all, leave it out. Like it tarter? Use more pickling liquid or more lime juice. Let your own taste and preference be your guide.

You know, I'm pretty sure I won't be saving this just for a TexMex meal. The heat of the jalapenos, soft creaminess of the avocado, the zing of lime and the crunch of celery all work together for one especially crave-able summer salad. It's too good NOT to have it a lot more often than that!


The inspiration.



Pickled Jalapeno Avocado Potato Salad

  • 2 1/2 lbs Yukon Gold potatoes, cooked, cooled slightly, peeled and diced
  • 1/2 C celery, diced
  • 2 hardboiled eggs, peeled and chopped
  • 1/2 C - 1 C pickled jalapenos, drained and sliced across - reserve liquid (the amount of pickled jalapenos you use depends on how spicy you like things and how hot the peppers are. Some pickled jalapenos are hotter than others.)
  • 1/4 - 1/3 C minced fresh cilantro
  • 1/4 C onion, finely minced
  • 2 avocados, 1 very ripe, the 2nd not quite so ripe. The very soft one will be used in the dressing, the other diced for the salad.
  • juice of 1 lime (2 T approx)
  • 1/2 C mayonnaise
  • 1/4 C reserved pickled jalapeno liquid
  • 1 T Jane's Crazy Salt

In a large bowl, mix potatoes, celery, eggs, jalapenos, cilantro, onion, and the diced avocado. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, mash the soft avocado with a fork and add mayo, pickled jalapeno liquid, lime juice and Crazy Salt. Mix well and pour over the potato mixture. Mix gently, but thoroughly.

Chill until serving time.


Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Black Bean And Pork Chipotle Burgers





If you don't grill year round, I'll bet you're itching to fire up the the old Weber! I'd venture a guess the mental wheels are already turning to pick the perfect inaugural protein. Chicken? Steak? Salmon? For most of us, probably the first thing you want is a damned good burger. After that annoying recent run of snow and cold, isn't a burger just the thing to put away all those chilly memories of winter? 

Since my grill gets lots of use during ALL seasons of the year (and includes non-stop sizzling hamburgers), I was craving something a little different than a traditional, first-of-the-season, basic burger. Maybe something with a little south of the border flair? I decided to mix up a ground pork burger with black beans for color and even more protein, some heat in the form of smoky chipotles in adobo, even more smoky flavor from a touch of cumin, and a TON of burger personality. Let the burger season begin!

Black Bean And Pork Chipotle Burgers

  • 1/2 C canned black beans, drained and rinsed - mash beans coarsely with a fork
  • 1 lb ground pork
  • 1/4 C onion, finely minced
  • 1 t salt
  • 1 t granulated garlic
  • 2 T canned chipotles in adobo - use some of the adobo sauce, too
  • 1 t ground cumin
Mix all ingredients well, but lightly. Form into 3-4 patties - depending on how big you like your burgers.

Fire up the grill and cook to desired doneness...I like my pork burgers well done. I'm old school like that.

I topped mine with a fresh salsa, slices of ripe avocado, and a few crumbles of queso fresco. Top yours just the way you want!


    

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Coconut Almond Bourbon Blondies - Gluten Free!





Thanks to Kentucky bourbon country, I'm still finding ways to enjoy memories of the trip we made last year. The Woodford Reserve cooking and baking items I picked up at Bourbon Barrel Foods in Louisville are still finding new uses in my kitchen. 

Blame it on the Strip District and Enrico's, but since wandering into that incredible bakery a couple of weeks ago, I haven't been able to stop thinking about my favorite, fondly remembered, blondies. Why on earth would I tempt myself when all that gluten taunted me? I simply felt the urge to peruse beautiful pastries, biscotti, breads, cakes and cookies...and to inhale deeply. And I did.

Duplicate Enrico's blondies at home? And make them gluten free? Why try to recreate perfection? Why not? I used my basic gluten free blondie recipe, added toasted almonds, coconut shreds, mega chocolate chips, then sanded everything with Bourbon Vanilla Sugar and a sprinkle of Bourbon Smoked Sea Salt - both from Bourbon Barrel Foods in Louisville. Also from BBF, I incorporated Bourbon - Madagascar Vanilla Extract. The secret ingredient, of course, is a bit of Woodford Reserve Bourbon! 

Kentucky tastes SO GOOD!



Coconut Almond Bourbon Blondies Gluten Free



  • 4 T unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
  • 4 T coconut oil
  • 1 C light brown sugar, packed
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 t Woodford Reserve bourbon - or whatever you have on hand (bet dark rum would be pretty amazing, too)
  • 1 t vanilla extract (see above for the brand I used and a link to order your own)
  • 1 C Jule's gluten free all purpose flour
  • 1/4 t baking soda - be sure it's gluten free
  • 1/2 t baking powder - be sure it's gluten free
  • 1/2 t fine kosher salt
  • 3/4 C chocolate chips - I used Guittard mega chocolate chips
  • 1 T Jule's gluten free all purpose flour (for tossing with the chocolate chips to keep them from sinking in the batter)
  • 1/2 C toasted almond slices - toast them in a dry skillet until lightly browned and fragrant
  • 1/2 C Trader Joe's Roasted Coconut Chips
  • 1 T Bourbon Vanilla Sugar
  • a large pinch of Bourbon Smoked Sea Salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Butter an 8" X 8" square baking pan. Set aside. Toss chocolate chips with the 1 T flour in a small bowl. Set aside.

In a medium mixer bowl, add the butter and coconut oil and blend well, then add brown sugar and beat at medium speed until thoroughly blended. Add egg, vanilla and bourbon to the mixture and beat until smooth.

In a small separate bowl, mix flour, baking soda, baking powder and kosher salt. Add this dry mixture to the mixer bowl with the wet ingredients and mix at slow speed until just incorporated. Fold in the chocolate chips by hand.

Pour the batter into the buttered pan, working it into the corners and smoothing the top with an offset spatula. Scatter the almonds and coconut over the top, sprinkle with bourbon vanilla sugar, and finally with a big pinch of bourbon smoked sea salt.

Bake for 45 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool the pan on a rack and cut into squares or bars to serve. 

Why not make a good cup of coffee (and maybe add just a splash of bourbon?) for quite the enjoyable break...kind of like a mental visit to the Bourbon Trail!