Cheap eats, Family, Ingredients, Presentation, Recipes, Seasonal, Techniques and tools

Roasted-corn and tomato summer salad.

I forget what the inspiration was the first time I made this. I know I took it to someone’s house for a summer party, but the rest is lost to me.

The last few years, it’s become a summer staple in my house. Or the house of anyone who had a little more room on their table and was kind enough to have me over. I made it again on Monday to take to a picnic. I like it well enough that the one time I tried putting meat in it was the last time. And I’m one of those people who thinks meat makes most things better.

Couple folks saw me mention it and asked for a recipe. So.

Getting a little char on the corn is important, and use the best tomatoes and olive oil you can tolerate — because of budget or snobbiness-aversion reasons. Either is totally acceptable.

What really made this work when I lived in the South were the tomatoes. The heat does something to them there. Meaty, firm, uncutous tomatoes. I usually use a red or black variety, like Paul Robeson, but yellow zebras do something cool to this, too.

Winds up looking roughly like this:

So make it. Eat it. And if you remember, tell me what you thought.

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Roasted corn salad

Ingredients:
— Six ears corn, husked
— Six or seven plum-sized tomatoes, diced; heirlooms if possible
— Three shallots, halved and sliced paper thin
— Handful or two fresh basil, torn or sliced into chiffonade
— 1/3 cup cider vinegar
— extra-virgin olive oil and Kosher or sea salt and fresh-cracked black pepper to taste
(Optional: a sliced jalapeno, couple roasted poblano peppers, chopped fresh oregano)

Directions:
Rub the corn with olive oil and roast in a 425-degree oven or grill until fully cooked. Set aside to cool.

In a large bowl, toss together gently shallots, diced tomatoes, salt and pepper, vinegar (and poblano/jalapeno if using).

When the corn cools, stand it on end on a cutting board and cut the kernels from the cob with a sharp knife. Add the corn to the bowl and toss.

Add in olive oil slowly, stirring gently. When it tastes like the right mix of acidity and fruity olive oil, you’re good. Add in the basil (and oregano, if you like) and toss.

Let sit about 15 minutes, toss and eat.

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Ambience, Ingredients, Neighborhoods, Service, Techniques and tools

Winghart’s.

Brie, white-truffle aioli, arugula, caramelized onions and bacon. On a burger.

In case you were wondering:

And the fries were good. Seasoned, crispy — I think I liked them better than the ones at D’s in Regent Square. Maybe that’s heresy.

Anyway — Winghart’s. Market Square. You should go there.

I’m finding I don’t spend a ton of time downtown. Not that there isn’t anything to do. More like it’s a place I rarely wind up.

Which is a little silly. I can walk there. It’s a mile or so from my apartment. From the right spot at the end of my block, I can see the giant ’80s fantasy castle that is PPG Place.

Then two days last week found me downtown around lunchtime. And starving. And three blocks from Market Square.

It’s a place I find perplexing. The city clearly wants attention there but it’s mostly chains, national and local — Starbucks, Primanti Bros. — and not a whole lot of character. A couple blocks either way, sure, I know where I am. But standing down there I might as well be in Seattle or something. No sense of place.

But I’d heard of Winghart’s, perplexing in its own way because it promises whiskey yet does not yet have a liquor license. No matter. And to say I’d heard of it doesn’t quite do it justice. I’d heard universally good things.

That’s sort of odd. To have everyone I know who’d been there say glowingly how absurdly good it is. People have different palates. Everyone doesn’t have to like something for it to be good to me. Almost makes me nervous to have consensus on a place — especially something like a burger joint.

AmyJo happened to be downtown, too, so we met there.

It’s a tight little place, cash register by the door, not too many seats inside. You can smell what they cook there. It’s obvious, though not overwhelmingly so.

And damn. Just damn.

She stayed more basic than I did, just bacon and cheddar. And that, too, was something special, even for a combination of ingredients I’d had a thousand times before.

They do pretty much everything right. Open kitchen but without ambient grease sticking to everything. Buns that are good bread on their own. Simple syrup on countertops because granular sugar doesn’t dissolve properly into cold things like iced tea. And I asked for my burger medium — to be a little safe in a new place — but the quality of the meat and their skill cooking it means medium-rare at least next time.

And friendly. As long as you’re not getting in the way of their being busy — and the do get busy — the folks there will answer any question you’ve got or even just chat a little.

Also of note: It’s not what I’d call cheap but the prices are more than fair for what you get, volume and quality.

Maybe I’ll have to find my way downtown a little more often.

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Cheap eats, Ingredients, Neighborhoods, Nontraditional, Presentation, Strip District

Pittsburgh Marshmallow Factory.

Willy Wonka may have said it best. The snozzberries taste like snozzberries.

Get a lemon marshmallow from Chris Momberger at his place in the Pittsburgh Public Market in the Strip District and it tastes like actual lemons. The ones he makes with Big Hop IPA from East End Brewing taste like the beer tastes. Root beer marshmallows taste like root beer. Pistachio like pistachio. Maple bacon like syrup and cured pork belly.

And then there are these. If you’re brave enough.

Which is all sort of funny for a dude who is an economist by trade.

He learned this particular confection in India, just the right combination of sugar and gelatin and whatever the hell else works. The structure is his, but the flavoring genius belongs largely to his girlfriend, Deborah Steinberg.

They’d made the marshmallows for parties and the like, but hadn’t developed any kind of business plan.

Then Deborah was looking to drum up some extra cash.

“I told her as long as we could gross $250 for a weekend, I was in,” Chris said.

They do much better than that. The Post-Gazette took note, as did American Airlines’ magazine.

He’s been busy enough that he’s been asking friends to work the stand so he has enough time to make more marshmallows and, like, sleep.

My first of his marshmallows was whiskey.

There it is in some hot chocolate. Then came a beer one. Then ginger. Then cherry. Root beer and pistachio after that.

And then this happened.

It has little nibs of cooked bacon in it. Yes, really. And the maple-syrup flavor is kind of a perfect bridge between the marshmallow and the little piggy parts.

That I went back again and again should tell you something. I don’t have much of a sweet tooth.

The marshmallows themselves are light, ethereal little notions. They weigh less than the idea of them. Sweet but not cloying. These are not the dusty, dense, cakey marshmallows most of us are used to out of a plastic bag on a supermarket shelf. And they’re a buck each at the Public Market, most of them.

Not just a different kind of thing — a different thing entirely.

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Ambience, Family, Meta, Nontraditional, Traditional

Yinz privileges.

Almost seven months in Pittsburgh now. I’m still new. It’s my city but it’s not my city.

As much as I have embraced this city and it me, I am not of this place. I still have something to earn, something to prove.

I don’t yet have yinz privileges.

Some of that’s about language. Pittsburghese. The dropped infinitives, the flat vowels, downbeat instead of an upbeat at the ends of questions, the n’ats and gum bands and yinz-guyses. Maybe I know how to get from the South Side to Bloomfield without a map, but those aren’t words I get to use yet — mockingly or otherwise. Even if I wanted to, I could never out-Greg & Donny the actual Greg & Donny.

Living in Philly a decade ago, I inadvertently started occasionally dropping my Rs in words like “yesterday.” I did — to my mother’s heartbreak — say “wudder” for “water.” What I never did pick up was the “yous” — the Philly version of yinz or y’all. Not out of a feeling of respect or otherness, it just never felt like it fit in my mouth.

I do find myself saying y’all. And I did spend more than three years in the South. That’s when it came back to me. I had a high school teacher in Oregon who came from northern Louisiana — he said y’all. A lot. And I started saying it to poke fun.

Said it enough that it kind of stuck for a while. And there I was, Oregon kid from Southern California, saying y’all for no reason except I liked to be an idiot and make fun. That went away until I’d been in Arkansas a couple years and then it just seemed expedient. Saying “you guys” or some such just took too damn long. Always a chance I was going to need those syllables later for something more important.

There are different ways of getting to know a place. I’ve read plenty about Pittsburgh. The H, the Hump, the flood in 1936, the Hill District and jazz, Carnegie and Frick, Andy Warhol, Gene Kelly, that — holy crap — the Pirates used to be good.

But that’s not the same as experience. I’ve walked around where Forbes Field used to be. Been down to the Block House to touch it for myself. Seen shows at the O’Reilly and the Benedum. Spent time in the Heinz History Center archives for research. Happened across little things that tell something about this city.

A friend even got me in to see the CMU steam tunnels. Which was beyond cool.

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And I’ve done a lot of learning with my tongue. The traditional. The new. The people trying to make something special. Those who have taken the time to help me, show me around, teach me something, give of themselves.

They share their food, their beer, their insights, their lives. With me.

Before I moved here, I heard a lot from other transplants about how hard a city Pittsburgh was to get inside. That it could be difficult to win acceptance or find the right guide. Natives would look at me skeptically, they told me. Connecting with people would be hard.

Utter crap.

Maybe I just found the right people faster than I should have. Luck. Fluke.

I don’t think so.

My brother came through Pittsburgh a little while ago to play a gig in Polish Hill. We got to talking about Portland. That place can be a true closed society. Hard to meet people. Hard to know who your friends are. Hard to break into whatever club everyone else is a part of, the insouciant but vicious coolness of already living there.

I told him about Pittsburgh. The people I’ve met here. Jennie and Rob and Mike and Kelly and Abby and A.J. and Derrick and Gwen and Andrea and Andrea (two people) and Beth and Emily and Kim and Claire and Arthur and (another) Mike and Perry and Chris and James and Mindy and Hart and Adam and Cara and Dana and Amy and Tim. Yeah, not every one of them would get on a plane to post bail for me in another state, but they and a bunch of others have made this feel like home for me. And in not that much time.

I like it here. Think I’ll stay a while. Might even pick up those yinz privileges somewhere along the way.

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Mother’s Day.

It was Mother’s Day. I made this:

It’s a cheesy ramp and leek tart with oyster mushrooms, roasted red peppers, garlic, Dijon mustard. Good stuff. I’ll stick a rough recipe down below.

My folks had never been to Pittsburgh before. Not even a layover at the airport.

Yep. That's them.

So even more than usual, I tried to shop local. Cheese from PennMac, herbs and ramps from a farmer’s market, that kind of thing.

I don’t think anything came from Giant Eagle — not a knock, there are just smaller businesses I’d rather support. The mushrooms I got at Lotus in the Strip. Leeks from Stan’s. That kind of thing.

My mother has an occasional tendency to spoil me. Not always, just sometimes. We haven’t lived within a thousand miles of each other in four years, and she’s always been the kind of person to do something for someone else rather than, say, buy new shoes for herself that she needs. Something like this: least I can do.

After all, she’s probably the biggest reason I cook. She had me in the kitchen early. Early, I say.

We all got up early, made coffee from Big Dog beans, sat around while I rinsed and chopped and organized. I liked seeing my mother get more and more excited when the smells from the pans started filling the kitchen. Anticipation is one of my favorite things about cooking.

And then the unveiling. People were happy. Bellies full. Success.

For the tart:

Ingredients
Filling:
¼-lb. ramps, cleaned and sliced
4 leeks (white and light-green parts only), sliced and cleaned
2 red bell peppers, roasted, peeled and diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
½-lb. oyster mushrooms, roughly chopped
¼-lb. Garroxta cheese, chopped
¼-lb. Swiss raclette cheese, chopped
2 tbsp. Dijon mustard
Tbsp. each fresh thyme and chervil, chopped (but you could use pretty much whatever, herb-wise)
6 tbsp. (divided) extra-virgin olive oil
4 tbsp. (divided) unsalted butter
Salt and pepper to taste

Crust:
2 cups flour
1 stick cold unsalted butter, diced
2 tbsp. baking powder
1 egg, beaten
1 pinch salt
Enough cold water to bind, usually about a half-cup.

Directions
Make the dough. In a large bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt. Add butter and mix with a fork or by hand until incorporated and looking rather like crumbs. Mix in egg. Then add water a little at a time until the dough just comes together. Knead a few times, folding it over itself, then form into a round disc and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Refrigerate at least a half hour.

Meantime, add oil and butter equally into to saute pans, one large and one somewhat small. Medium heat for the larger and high for the smaller. Once the larger pan is heated and the butter melted, add ramps, leeks and garlic and stir to coat. Add a little salt and pepper. In the hot smaller pan, add the mushrooms, stir to coat and leave alone for a few minutes so they brown. No salt yet there.

Once the ramps and leeks soften, not taking on any color, add in the peppers and stir. Check the mushrooms and toss if they’re browning well on the bottom. Once the mushrooms are brown and give moisture back into the pan, season with salt and pepper and take off the heat, setting aside.

Once the peppers have heated through, taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary. Stir in the mustard. Remove from the heat. Add in the cheese and herbs and combine well. Also add in the mushrooms.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Take out the dough and roll into a rough circle, taking care not to roll it too thin.

On a baking sheet, lay out the dough and spoon in as much of the pan mixture into the center as will fit, trying not to overload it. Take the sides of the dough and fold it up over part of the filling. Rough and rustic is perfectly fine. Brush the top of the crust with a little olive oil or milk or melted butter.

Bake in the oven at least 20 minutes, maybe more like 25 or so, until the crust is browned on top and flaky.

Let sit out of the oven a few minutes, then eat the thing.

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