Ambience, Ingredients, Meta, Recipes

Generosity.

Food is for sharing.

One of the hardest things about moving to Pittsburgh in stages has been my inability to entertain. Cooking for myself is fine — I do like food — but it’s so much more gratifying to do it for other people. My kitchen right now has only a few of my toys in it. I barely have furniture; it arrives with my wife AmyJo in less than a week.

Finally. On all counts. Especially the wife part. We actually like each other. It’s a little sick.

The process of cooking is almost soothing for me. The sweat, the knife nicks on my hands, the performance stress make a strange sheath for an activity in which I find a measure of serenity. It may be the most organized I get. What prep to do in what order, when to hit the heat or take something out of the fridge to get to room temperature, where to put everything in the meantime.

Driving through town on the way somewhere? Stop for a night. I’ll cook. I’ll take any excuse I can most of the time.

And I haven’t gotten to do it.

Mostly.

See, I have a friend. Say hello to Beth. I got to talking on Twitter a few weeks ago about how much I missed this. She offered up her kitchen.

We haven’t known each other since childhood or anything. I’ve only lived here three months and known her for one of them. And that’s now, not when she first opened her house to me.

And this is the crazy thing: Hers wasn’t the only offer I got of a kitchen, just the one that worked out. Pittsburgh’s like that.

Beth’s offer was gracious. And kind. I mean, I suppose she thought something like, “Hey, food.” But she didn’t even know for sure I could cook — just that I talked about it.

That night, she invited over a few friends and I made a tray of ziti with a homemade tomato sauce and a little dip/spread thing that was basically a puree of olive oil and roasted garlic, eggplant, fennel, red peppers and onion with a little fennel pollen at the end to bring out the sweetness a little more. Nothing fancy.

Damn, it felt good.

So last night we did it again. Little more elaborate this time. Tilapia enchiladas in a spinach and roasted poblano cream sauce preceded by mussels in beer with red peppers, shallots, garlic, saffron, ancho chile powder, red pepper flakes — and I think that’s it. I burned off some of the hair on my knuckles roasting the peppers — I didn’t have tongs — and the pan for searing the fish shot me with hot oil a couple times, but I have done far worse to myself.

Another new friend, Emily, made a sinful chocolate cream pie for dessert. Sinful. Impure thoughts. Honestly.

The enchilada recipe is a ripoff of a Rick Bayless recipe that uses chicken and corn tortillas instead of the flour ones I use in this. A few other differences, too, but it’s not like I can claim it as my own.

Mine kind of look like this:

I’m rather incapable of following precise recipes. It’s why I don’t bake. I combine flavors in my head the way I do with words. Organize the ingredients sort of the same way. I taste in advance with my brain. That’s how I know how to explain it.

Food was good. (And if you like: recipes for the enchiladas and the mussels.) All seven of us laughed. Hard. A lot. At the Internet or, like, furniture. Or each other or Eddie Izzard. Didn’t matter.

But it was something that wouldn’t have happened without the donated kitchen. Beth shared. So I got to share, too.

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Ambience, Cheap eats, Ingredients, Neighborhoods, Service, South Side, Traditional

Southside Steaks.

Fatty, oozy, meaty, cheesy, bready — cheesesteaks are a thing close to my heart.

There’s a joke there somewhere. It’s about a cardiologist.

I’m not from Philly, but the place still feels like home on the rare occasions I get to go. I lived there only two and a half years. This was a while ago. But it’s the first place I felt like I got to know through its food.

I was 21 when I arrived. This led inevitably to many, many late nights or early mornings or whatever the hell they are at that point.

3 a.m.

4 a.m.

On one strange night that involved a complicated situation with a female, 6 a.m. Or maybe it was 7 by the time my friend and I got there. I hope not.

Then there was the night with the hot sauce. Ow. Just … ow. Also: I may have peed in an alley.

Pat’s. Geno’s. Of course. (Pat’s is better.) A couple places not there anymore.

But a cheesesteak is truly a Philly thing. Get outside the city and there really isn’t anything comparable. And people there are loyal partisans. One night I took a friend from Reno to Pat’s after the bars closed. Long line, into the street. Geno’s is literally spitting distance away, ablaze in garish neon. There was first a murmur and then a full-on bellowed chant from the back of our line.

“Geno’s sucks! Geno’s sucks!”

The drunks were taunting the other line. People looked around like there might be a fight. I thought it was funny. But that’s how it can be there.

A real cheeseteak: Sirloin or top round steak, cheese, maybe onions, maybe cherry peppers, all on a good roll. Cheez Whiz, provolone, both — whatever. Shouldn’t be that hard.

So there I am on the South Side. Pittsburgh. Not known for its cheesesteaks. Someone told me Southside Steaks got its rolls from the Amoroso’s bakery in Philly. This is one of only two acceptable bakeries for a traditional cheesesteak roll.

It was cold. I was hungry. Early for something, but I forget what. I went in apprehensive. I saw words like “chipotle” and “Cajun” on the menu. Not helping.

The nice lady behind the counter tried to talk me into something weird and complicated even after I said specifically I was looking for something simple, authentically Philly, the real thing.

Thanks, but no.

That they went to the trouble to get the right rolls and listed Cheez Whiz as a menu option told me I should at least give it a shot. If I was serious about finding an exception to the no-good-cheesesteak-outside-Philly rule, there are worse things to go by.

Cheesesteak with onions, Whiz and provolone. I might not be 21 anymore — praise be; I was kind of a jackass — and it wasn’t 4 a.m., but this was worth a shot. No cherry peppers to be had, though.

The roll is critical because of the grease off the meat and the runny cheese. It has to hold up. All the while, it still has to taste like good bread. Good in that department. The meat was tender and well-seasoned. Onions browned into sweetness on the flat-top and not mushy or burnt. And the cheese tied it all together.

Pretty damn close. Definitely not bad. Might have to go back for another.

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Meta

Singalong.

Silliness, to be sure. And in all likelihood my last post today. But a friend of mine just reminded me I did this, so I thought I’d share.

This is my food-related playlist.

Everything on here mentions something food-related in the title or the lyrics. Doesn’t have to actually be about food. Just close enough that I could fake it.

Please feel free to offer your own suggestions. Or just laugh at me. That works too.

So:

“Ball And Biscuit,” The White Stripes

“Gin And Juice,” The Gourds

“Black Milk,” Massive Attack

“The Lemon Song,” Led Zeppelin

“Love On The Rocks With No Ice,” The Darkness

“It Was a Good Day,” Ice Cube

“Be Our Guest [Beauty And The Beast],” Angela Lansbury

“Beans and Corn Bread,” Louis Jordan & His Tympany 5

“Everybody Eats When They Come To My House,” Cab Calloway

“Bella Notte [Lady And The Tramp],” George Givot & Bill Thompson

“Jambalaya (On The Bayou),” Jerry Lee Lewis

“Mayonaise,” Smashing Pumpkins

“Chocolate City,” Parliament

“Cantaloupe Island,” Herbie Hancock

“Safe As Milk,” Captain Beefheart and The Magic Band

“Poundcake,” Van Halen

“Spoonful,” Willie Dixon

“Pour Some Sugar On Me,” Def Leppard

“Doggy Dogg World,” Snoop Dogg

“Slice of Your Pie,” Mötley Crue

“Farmer’s Son,” Augie March

“Tequila Sundae,” Urge Overkill

“Come to the Party,” The Smurfs

“Close To The Bone,” Louis Prima

“Clementine,” The Decemberists

“Cookie Bones,” John Paul Keith And The 145’s

“Sugar,” Lenny Kravitz

“Orange Crush,” R.E.M.

“Tomato In The Rain,” Kaiser Chiefs

“Self Portrait Of The Bean,” Duke Ellington/Coleman Hawkins

“Icing Sugar,” The Cure

“I Wish I Was Queer So I Could Get Chicks,” The Bloodhound Gang

“Big Cheese,” Nirvana

“Malted Milk,” Eric Clapton

“Soul Kitchen,” The Doors

“Raspberry Beret,” Prince

“Pass The Peas,” Fred Wesley & The J.B.’s

“Gimme A Pigfoot,” Bessie Smith

“Apple Tree,” Wolfmother

“Cherry Pie,” Warrant

“Hot Sugar,” The Mooney Suzuki

“Mother Popcorn Part I,” James Brown

“Under The Sea [The Little Mermaid],” Samuel E. Wright

“Chewy,” Wiz Khalifa

“One Mint Julep,” Ray Charles

“I Want The Waiter With The Water,” Ella Fitzgerald

“That’s Amore,” Dean Martin

“Drinking My C.V. Wine,” Howlin’ Wolf

“Pork Roll Egg And Cheese,” Ween

“Milkshake,” Kelis

“Egg Man,” The Beastie Boys

“Green Onions,” Booker T. & The MG’s

“Come On In My Kitchen,” Robert Johnson

“Kitchen,” The Lemonheads

“Pure Cane Sugar,” John Paul Keith And The 145’s

“Fruit Machine,” The Ting Tings

“Peaches,” Presidents of the United States of America

“Meat Man,” Jerry Lee Lewis

“Drinking Beer,” Tiny Grimes

“Next Tequila,” The Champs vs. Dr.Dre

“Strange Brew,” Cream

“Whip It,” Devo

“Honey Molasses,” Jill Scott

“Dead Shrimp Blues,” Robert Johnson

“Sugar On My Tongue,” Talking Heads

“Run Rabbit Run,” Blue Giant

“Fattening Frogs for Snakes,” Sonny Boy Williamson

“Spreadin’ Honey,” Charles Wright

“Coca Cola,” Little Red

“Nutrition,” Dead Milkmen

“Hot Dog (Watch Me Eat),” Detroit Cobras

“Spoonful of Borscht,” A.T.S.

“Apple Blossom,” The White Stripes

“Black Yogurt,” Black Moth Super Rainbow

“Some Chocolates,” The Blow

“Dirty Old Egg-Sucking Dog,” Johnny Cash

“Spam Song,” Monty Python

“The Mustard,” Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Once More with Feeling [Musical Episode Soundtrack]

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Ambience, Cheap eats, Ingredients, Neighborhoods, North Side, Recipes, Techniques and tools

Make your own stock.

I beg you.

Chicken, pork, beef, shrimp, clam, mushroom — whatever. It makes everything better.

Funny thing: I couldn’t tell you why I did it the first time. I think I was just curious. Now it’s one of those things I need to survive.

It doesn’t take much. A big-ass pot. An oven for roasting. A stove, preferably gas, but it doesn’t have to be. A water supply. Other stuff as needed.

Making stock is one of those things that tells me I’m home. Most stocks take a while to make, so you have to be comfortable in the space. It makes my place smell incredible. Sometimes for days.

Maybe most importantly, it slows me down. I can’t leave it totally unattended. Shower: yes. Grocery shopping: no. It’s the kind of thing you build a day around.

Making some chicken stock was a priority for me the minute I moved in to my new place. I use it a lot. In soups, in braises, in sauces, to cook rice, etc. It’s just something I always like to have around.

So I started with this:

Roasted bones from two chickens, carrots, celery, onion, halved heads of garlic, bay leaves, white and black peppercorns, cumin seeds, Meyer lemons, fresh dill and fennel fronds. I think that was everything.

You’ll notice: no salt. Part of the reason I make my own stocks is to manage the salt in the food I eat. Not because a doctor told me to, just because it tastes better that way. And besides, my salt tastes better than whatever industrial processing salt Swanson’s or whomever uses to package their cartons of stock.

Anyway.

Covered the whole thing with lots of water in the aforementioned big-ass uncovered pot and hit the heat.

Heat is the big trick here. Low enough it doesn’t boil, high enough the fat renders and rises to the top to skim off. A little bubbling is fine. It keeps the liquid moving and the solids suspended so they’re not just inert, sunk at the bottom.

And then, basically, you wait. Once it got up to temperature, I think I let it go five or six hours. Every 20 minutes or so, I’d check it, skim the fat, adjust the heat if I had to.

Shrimp stock is different. Take the shells, slice a lemon, add a bay leaf and peppercorns and boil it for half an hour or so, skim off the junk and you have something usable.

But with this, the whole time, it’s reducing, water floating off as vapor and concentrating the flavors in what’s left.

When it looks and tastes done, strain it well. Cheesecloth helps but is not mandatory. Sometimes putting one fine-mesh strainer inside another is all you need.

This being my first batch in this pot and in this kitchen, I spilled more than I would have liked. Still wound up with this yield:

And another view:

The containers are just quart containers I got for cheap here. Huge sack of like 30 of them and another of lids for I think $7 or $8 total.

What to do with all of it? Most of it heads to the freezer for when I need it. Some went to my friend Andrea, who had asked a while back on Twitter what homemade stock was good for.

My first meal with it: Beef braised in chicken stock with cauliflower and red bell peppers, smoked paprika, allspice, white pepper, cumin, roasted garlic, oregano and Sriracha.

The leftovers are even better.

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Beer, Ingredients, Nontraditional, Techniques and tools

Tim.

It seems a lot of things that strike me as interesting come from people trying something new, often on their own.

That’s true with Salt of the Earth, Crested Duck Charcuterie, Azul, 21st Street Coffee, etc.

It’s also true with this:

This is the product of one Tim Russell. He’s 28 and works as a project manager for a defense contractor. It’s free, it’s a small-batch magazine and it’s new. Less new now than when I originally meant to post this, but still. Worth checking out.

Tim seems to be good people. And not just because I keep running in to him places. Fat Head’s on the South Side, Bocktown in the Ikea Kingdom off the Parkway West, Blue Dust in Homestead. Dude’s everywhere.

He was kind enough a while back to answer a few questions about what he’s doing. His answers are as he typed them.

Our little Q&A:

Eatsburgh: How did you first get interested in beer? How did the more you learned about it change how you tasted things?

Tim Russell: It all started on a business trip to England about 5 or 6 years ago. Some of the people that I was working with took my co-workers and I out for dinner and some beers afterwards. They got me to try some euro lagers with more flavor than what I was used to, like Peroni and Grolsch. Meanwhile, I had a case of Natty Light in the fridge at home. But I liked these a lot more. The “aha” moment probably came when I had a Boddington’s on nitro draft. I bought a case from a local distributor as soon as I got home and I was hooked. I was able to get some co-workers to split a case every payday just to be able to taste as many different styles and brands as I could. Like a lot of other people, what made the beer styles different was always of interest. So, reading about the ingredients and how different flavors were achieved led me into homebrewing, which obviously not only gave me even more insight into the brewing process, but more freedom to try some styles that I could only read about at the time.

Eatsburgh: How did you begin — just begin — to educate yourself?

TR: Most of my information came from what I could read online on sites like ratebeer.com, beeradvocate.com, and of course wikipedia. I had also gotten some pretty good books on brewing.

Eatsburgh: At what point did you become more of an evangelist? Was it first a desire to share information about good beer — or good local beer?

TR: I’ve always been the beer geek among my friends. I took pride in being able to educate and introduce people to things they didn’t know they were going to like so much.

Eatsburgh: Describe Craft Pittsburgh, both what it is and what you’d like it to become.

TR: It’s a free-circulation publication that will be placed at a lot of the good craft beer spots in and around Pittsburgh. It’s being issued on a quarterly basis. It’s pretty much something you can pick up and read over a beer at the bar or take home after grabbing a six pack for takeout.

The idea came after I was reading Brewing News, another free pub, but circulated at a regional level. I’d always pick it up when I could, but started getting frustrated with the lack of coverage in the Pittsburgh area. It seemed like every other area in the Great Lakes region was getting more attention. I knew there was so much more going on, but Pittsburgh wasn’t getting the coverage in this form of media that it deserved. Besides that, there was information was out there, mostly online, but it was scattered. I found myself checking at least five or six different websites just to get an idea if anything was coming up. So a comprehensive calendar of beer events was something else that I was happy to introduce.

I also thought that going into print was a medium that could grab a more casual demographic; again, the guy having a beer alone at the bar or taking a sixer home. Not everyone is online, or at least checking up on every good beer and food blog the area has to offer.

The content is going to be comprised of beer news, events coverage, reviews, homebrewing, etc., but I want it all to have a local spin. Events will be local. Beer reviews will be for those that are locally available. Someone asked me if we’d write something about growing hops, but only because he didn’t know what hops would actually fare well in the local soil and climate.

After doing some coverage for these events so far, I feel like a lot of people don’t appreciate why they’re there. Most of these events are charitable with great causes, but people overlook that a lot of times. So we’re making an effort to raise more awareness for the causes, not just the beer.

I want it to become resource for the Pittsburgh beer community. Something I take pride in is the sense of community the area has, but not just geographically. All the subcultures and interest groups have their own sense of community as well. We have a great craft beer community here already, but I want to do my part to help it grow.

Eatsburgh: When you decided to start a magazine, how did you start? What were the challenges? How did you find the designers, artists, printers, etc., you would need?

TR: Since it’s going to be distributed for free, the hardest part is getting funding from advertising. I work as a project manager and have some background in pricing and contracts, so figuring my expenses wasn’t difficult. I put a few quotes out and was happy with the examples of some design work the printer that I chose had to offer. Once I had that out of the way, I spent a lot of time just meeting with potential advertisers to gauge interest and try to raise some support. The interest was definitely there, but we still needed to show a product. I had all the ideas for the content for a pilot issue. We just needed to write it. I had an idea of some writers I wanted to get on board. Some weren’t realistic. Some were, but either fell through or hadn’t materialized. At that point I had already taken to twitter and came across a few great writers by coincidence. That’s quite ironic, since I used to be pretty anti-social media. But things have been falling in place in an uncanny way.

Eatsburgh: Who do you hope the audience for this is?

TR: I assume they’d be local, but it doesn’t have to be anyone in particular, as long as they enjoy craft beer or at least have an interest in learning about good beer and local events.

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Ingredients, Leetsdale, Meta, Neighborhoods, Nontraditional

Azul.

Oh, hey. Forgot to mention. Some people got it in their heads to pay me to write occasionally about food. Based in part on this-here little site. Good deal. Different working with editors on this stuff, but getting used to it.

First food paycheck: Azul in Leetsdale. I took the photos, too.

It’s the second food story I filed, but the first to run. Got one coming up in a glossy Arkansas magazine — but about something in Pittsburgh — sometime soon.

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Beer, Cheap eats, Lawrenceville, Neighborhoods, Service, Traditional

Frankie’s.

Places like this make me nervous.

Old-school like there are no newer schools, Frankie’s is where you can get a more-than-solid hot sausage sandwich and two bottled Yuenglings for less than seven bucks. But it’s just down the street from a place that hand-restores and tailors vintage T-shirts.

I’m nervous it will go away.

The old mill buildings to the west along the Allegheny are hard to see from Butler Street. Even in the memory of a changing neighborhood, what they represent and the people who worked there fade into the background.

Gentrification means less shots-fired calls, sure. But it also means more tax incentives and abatements. More outsiders. More idea cafes. More $50 scarves. More money. More young people. More white people. More pugs.

These are not all good things for a place like Frankie’s. These are things that often kills a place like Frankie’s.

Inside it’s dark and stained and Dr. Phil is on the TV a lot. No one’s jeans were “distressed” at purchase in there. No one in there would ever use the word “distressed” — about pants, certainly, but probably about anything.

There are four sandwiches on the menu, one of which is a foot-long hotdog. Vegetarian options — um, chips?

It’s an island of IC Light braced against a craft beer flood in this city. Most places will nod to that with something local — a little East End Brewing, perhaps, or something from Penn. At Frankie’s, screw off. Winter seasonal beer here just means the cans of Coors Light get colder. There are two types of malt liquor on the menu in case you want something with a higher ABV.

It feels a little weird talking about what’s authentic in a neighborhood in this case because nobody named Frankie ever ran the place. Dude’s name was Lou. He had a business partner named Frankie. I hear Lou still comes around every once in a while, but I’ve never seen him.

The brothers who own it now have had it since 1989. They own the building, so rent’s not a problem.

I love that it’s there. I hope it continues to be there. Because I can’t quite tell what type of neighborhood Lawrenceville is trying to be.

Almost every city I’ve lived in has a neighborhood like this, coping with this kind of transition. Is the momentum to invent and rebuild and take over going to destroy everything that was there before? That’s what seems to happen other places. What starts with a locally owned coffee shop, an art gallery and an architecture firm ends with Panera, Ulta and Starbucks.

Is there a magical balance that evens out only on a scale placed on the tip of a unicorn’s horn? Is Lawrenceville where that happens?

No idea. Let’s hope.

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