Monday, August 2, 2010

Food & Water Watch in Pittsburgh TOMORROW

Food & Water Watch, a DC-based non-profit advocacy group will be in Braddock and Pittsburgh tomorrow, August 3, raising awareness about the Farm Bill working its way through congress with the goal of getting it revised to make it fairer to small farmers.

If you're interested in this cause, check out this flyer which was sent along by one of their organizers and get educated!

(Also, don't pass up the opportunity to enjoy The Quiet Storm's home fries!)

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Buy Fresh Buy Local Farm Tour: Pittsburgh area farm tour this Saturday!

Attention Pittsburgh!

This Saturday, pack up a car with hungry people and go exploring! On Saturday, July 24 2010 between 10 AM and 6 PM, Western Pennsylvania farmers will be opening their doors to visitors who are interested in learning more about some of the best food produced in this area. Whether you're looking for some local cheeses, want to see pastures of grass-fed beef, see how some of the world's best lamb is raised in our backyard, or just bike to an urban farm and nursey in the city, there should be something for everyone. A $10 admission per car is payable to the first farm you visit, which gives you access to every other farm on the tour. All proceeds go to support The Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA).

Click here for a list and map of all participating farms.

Tam and I will be starting at Kretchmann Farm (who have been filling our CSA crates for the last three years) and taking it from there!

For more information contact PASA at (412) 697-0411.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

International Adventures in Junk Food, Vol. 1: Argentina

I would like to introduce a new series to the blog which I am calling "International Adventures in Junk Food." In these posts, I'll chronicle unique junk foods discovered and enjoyed on various travels. The featured item might be sweet, it might be salty, but it has to be full of processed crap and chemicals, and it has to be delicious.

Volume 1: Argentina
Megatube 3D's Mega Queso

We spent three weeks in Argentina before discovering Megatube 3D's. We were at Iguazu Falls, were totally drenched with rain and spray from our visit to the falls, and searching for something to tide us over before dinner. Without car and wanting to stay dry, our options were limited to the few different bags of processed fried snack foods available from the lobby of our hotel. In a moment of divine intervention, we decided on Megatube 3D's.

I'm not sure if it was the superfluous apostrophe, the specified three dimensional quality of the tubes (who wants a 2D tube? That would just be a rectangle!), or the promise of mega queso flavour, but we grabbed a large bag, and a large bottle of Quilmes beer, and took them to the covered porch outside our room to eat.

The Megatube 3D's were a revelation! I'd describe them as a cross between Bugles, and Nacho Cheese Doritos. They were shaped like and had the surface texture of Bugles, were made of a deep-fried cornlike substance, and slathered in Doritos Nacho Cheese flavour powder. Since they were packaged by PepsiCo (bonus points for the omipresence of a multinational corporation), I think that the nacho cheese flavour was an exact replica of North American Nacho Cheese Doritos. So basically, Megatube 3D's were a new vehicle for that greasy orange powder that covers our fingers after eating Doritos.

They were perfect with a cold beer, and we probably wolfed down another 5 bags in our last week in Argentina. Oh! Megatube 3D-apostrophe-s, we miss you!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Casse-Croûte Chez Tipit, Rivière-Beaudette, QC

Last year, I reviewed one of Montreal's best (and certainly its most acclaimed), poutine joint. However, one secret to traveling in Québec is that almost any rural road side diner, snack bar, or fry shack is going to serve up poutine better than what you can get in Montreal. No, Anthony Bourdain won't have eaten there, and it won't be featured in your Frommer's travel guide, but every small town has one or two dives, and I've yet to have anything but excellent poutine in any of them.

Tam and I were recently in my hometown to attend a belated wedding reception that my parents were graciously hosting for us newlyweds. After a fantastic weekend catching up with family and friends that we hadn't seen in ages, it was time to pack up the car and make the nearly 1000 km drive back to Pittsburgh.

We didn't make it far. After only an hour, we had exited Highway 20 and were looking to gas up. However, we were immediately confronted with two quintissentially Québécois institutions across the road from one another. Québécois institutions which undoubtedly draw more tourists then all others combined: a strip club, and a snack bar. While Club Frontière promised a selection of exotic danseuses to go with their (presumably) reasonably priced motel rooms, the lure of hot fries, gravy, and cheese curds from Chez Tipit proved stronger.

It was lunchtime, and so we queued up behind what felt like every local blue collar worker who were getting their steamés, toastés, poutine italiennes, and so on. We kept it simple and shared a traditional poutine between the two of us.

It didn't disappoint, easily surpassing the quality of most offerings downstream in Montreal. The fries were hot, crisp, and greasy, the cheese so fresh it squeaked (always a good sign), and the gravy was peppery and smooth.

It didn't take long for us to polish it off, with Tam, true to her British roots, dousing her half with splashes of vinegar between bites.

With enough carbs and fat to sustain us, we only needed a coffee break to get us the rest of the way back to Pittsburgh. We wondered whether the hardworking women across the way at Club Frontière similarly rely on a Chez Tipit poutine to fuel their long days?

Casse-Croûte Chez Tipit is located at 620 Rue Principale in Rivière-Beaudette, Quebec. It's just off the highway at the last/first exit in Québec when driving between Toronto and Montreal and is definitely better than the Wendy's and Timmy Ho's which line the 401 across the border in Ontario. In a rush? Call 450-269-2996 and ask for your order to go (pour aller), so you can get back on the road. Or back to the show across the street.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Mulberry season in Pittsburgh

In my walk to work over the last few weeks, I've been monitoring the status of my favorite Mulberry trees along my route. I'm happy to report that with the hot summer weather in the last few days, Pittsburgh's mulberry trees are now bursting with ripe fruit. I've added another public tree to the database on the excellent Neighborhood Fruit site, which I talked about last year as a resource for people to find and share fruit in their communities to prevent waste.

If any locals like these bright purple berries, I encourage you to go out to one of these public trees with a bucket and pick until your arms get sore. The fruit won't be around long!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Rex, La Barra, Uruguay

After a few days of fine dining in Uruguay, including our sublime lunch at El Garzon as well as excellent whole grilled fish on the beach at La Huella in José Ignacio where we were staying, we decided that our final dinner in the country would be a meal of chivitos, a regional steak-based sandwich. A quintessentially Uruguayan dish, the chivito is the national riff on the universal idea of packing carbs and protein into a meal that fits in your hand.

On the recommendation of our hotel staff, we made the short drive from José Ignacio to La Barra to go to Rex, a diner whose marquee promised us "The Best Chivitos in Town." Keeping things simple, we both ordered the Chivito Completo, which somehow crams five different forms of protein into a single dish. When our plates arrived, we were able to enjoy the architectural assembly of our sandwiches.

Each starts with a solid base of churrasco, a thin cut of steak grilled until juicy and tender, before being layered with two forms of pork (both pancetta and ham, in case omitting one or the other would be negligent). A generous layer of melted provolone binds the three meats together, and a fried egg tops them off. A few slices of lettuce and tomato, a dollop of mayo, and a sesame seed bun round out Rex's version of this national dish.

We washed our meal down with a large frosty bottle of Patricia, a decent Uruguayan lager which complemented our salty meal nicely. Were they the best chivitos in town? Well, they were the only ones we tried, and judging by our empty plates and happy faces, they earned our stamp of approval.

Rex is located on the main drag of Ruta 10 at km 161 in La Barra, Uruguay. You can call them at 00598-42-771504 or visit their website for more information.

Locals, how did we do? Is there a better chivito in the area? Where do you go for the best chivito in Uruguay?

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Hungry Canuck welcomed to 2008, joins Twitter

I have a few food-related side projects in the works right now, and thought that the time was right for me to join Twitter so that I can broadcast news about all of them in one place, when blog postings might not always be appropriate.

So, for those using the service, you can now follow me @hungrycanuck. I'll be tweeting when a new blog entry is posted, as well as random food-related musings, or when my other projects get off the ground.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

El Garzon, Garzón, Uruguay

December 2009 and January 2010 were a blur. Our budding family experienced two PhD defenses, a wedding, and a number of out-of-town family and friends visiting to celebrate such auspicious occasions. By the time February rolled around, Tam and I were ready to flee the cold snowy weather in Pittsburgh and our recently hectic lives, and so we did, choosing to honeymoon in South America.

After a 24-hour blur of in-flight movies, airports, security checkpoints, and lost luggage, we made it from the gray, gridlocked 376 Parkway in Pittsburgh to the clear two-lane Ruta 10, which weaves its way along the sunny South Atlantic Uruguayan coast, our home for four days of rejuvenation and relaxation before our itinerary took us to Argentina for the next three weeks. After a few blissful days on the beach, we decided to take an our rental car inland to see what the rest of the country was like. Without a map or a destination in mind we pointed our car away from the ocean, found a dirt road, and started driving. Under a big sunny sky, we passed countless cattle grazing on gentle green hillsides. Small wooded glens dotted the landscape, but for the most part, we were driving through empty green fields, with no settlements in sight.

At one point, we saw a sign indicating the direction of Garzón. Recognizing the town name from some pre-trip research that I had done on food options near where we were staying, we decided to go there, more out of a need for a specific destination to avoid getting lost than to seek out a meal. By the time we made it to Garzón, we were sweaty, dusty, and starting to get hungry. We weaved our way through the few streets that make up this tiny community, marveling at how far we'd traveled in just a few days, before deciding to check out El Garzon, probably the only restaurant in the country that has been written up in the Wall Street Journal.

We opted for the sunny poolside courtyard instead of the cool, antique-furnished interior, and we quite literally had the entire restaurant and service staff (one chef and one waiter) to ourselves. We were seated under the shade of a massive palm tree, whose trunk protruded from an opening in the table. Ordering modestly out of the need to conserve money for the rest of our month traveling, we decided to split two (astronomically priced) courses between us.

The kitchen brought us a light salad instead of an amuse bouche. It was composed of mandolined slices of raw baby zucchini, Parmesan scrapings, chopped, toasted almonds, a dusting of mint chiffonade and lime zest, black pepper, olive oil, and a splash of lemon juice. The contrast of bold flavours and textures as well as the freshness of the ingredients let us know that we were in for a special meal.

Our next course, a cold almond soup with fresh figs, floored us. I know I can go overboard with my prose in some of these reviews, but let me state this clearly: this dish was the single best food item that either of us has ever eaten.

As best as we could determine, the base of this soup was made of pureed almonds cut with stock, a splash of cream, and some acid (white balsamic vinegar, perhaps?). It was topped with a raw, quartered, exceedingly-ripe fig, some coarsely-ground black pepper, and a few drops of pungent olive oil. While seemingly simple, so many clean flavours were displayed by this plate. The acidity and saltiness of the broth hit us up front, followed by the sweetness of the figs and vinegar, and then nutty and grassy hints from the almonds and olive oil respectively. Finally, aromas of cream and pepper are left lingering on the tongue until the next spoonful starts the cycle once again. Really, truly, a masterpiece of a dish.

Knowing that Uruguay is one of the few places in the world to claim to have better beef than Argentina, we decided to get our first steak on the continent and split an order of bife de lomo (filet mignon) served with Patagonian potatoes. While the steak was sizzling over the wood-burning fire in the restaurant kitchen, we saw our chef stroll out to the poolside herb garden, pick a few sprigs, and return inside. A few minutes later, out came our steak, encrusted with the fresh herbs, garlic, and pitted black olives, cut in half and served with a few endive leaves on individual beds of potato.

The potatoes, sliced paper thin and artistically arranged, were fried until crisp in fat rich with the floral, complex aromas of the Uruguayan butter that we were starting to love. Strategically lining the plate, the potatoes soaked up the juices from the beef, giving them another level of richness. And what can I say about the steak? It was a fantastic piece of beef, no doubt expertly raised and butchered down the road by a culture that values meat, and perfectly cooked to the rare side of medium rare. Some purists would probably be shocked that the flavours of the meat were complemented with brash olives, garlic and herbs, but eating this meal under the South American summer sun, sipping a beautiful Uruguayan red wine (again, with a strong buttery bouquet) it seemed like the only possible way it could have been prepared.

Tam was exploring inside while our cafes (con leche) were being prepared. She saw milk slowly being hand-whisked until frothy over a gas flame before the addition of shots of espresso. Served in fine china, we enjoyed world-class coffee after a world class meal. In a town with just a few hundred inhabitants in a remote part of a remote country that we never really planned on visiting. This is a meal that we'll remember for a long, long time.

Restaurante El Garzón is located just off the town square in Garzón, Uruguay. Check out their website to plan a stay at the hotel or a visit for a meal. It is operated by Francis Mallmann, one of South America's most well known celebrity chefs, so expect to pay handsomely for your experience. Francis himself was reading a paper with a local dog outside the restaurant when we arrived. We can only hope that he oversaw the preparation of our meal. You can also enjoy some of his recipes, including the delicious zucchini salad that we ate, on youtube.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Patty King, Toronto, ON

Seventh grade was a big year. Growing up in Montreal, seventh grade meant high school, and for a pre-pubescent thirteen year old, high school meant being suddenly thrown into the same hallway with much larger, older, bearded seventeen and eighteen year olds, which was more than a little terrifying. In case thirteen isn’t an awkward enough age, my high school’s dress code mandated that we wear what seemed like an impossibly embarrassing school uniform. So I was undersized, felt like a dork in my uniform, and now had to function in an atmosphere where my female classmates had traded in their tie-dye t-shirts from sixth grade to experiment with cigarettes and push the envelope on the “pleated kilts must not be shorter than one inch above the knees” rule. Yes, in Montreal, there was a big difference between sixth and seventh grades.

Another difference between schools, which will eventually lead to the point of this entry, was the cafeteria. No longer limited to the brown bag or lunch box our parents packed for us in elementary school, now, the cafeteria served food. I can’t honestly remember a single meal they served for lunch (probably because I still brought in a packed lunch every day – thanks Mom!), but for a guy who was still many years away from getting the courage to ask out a girl, recess in the cafeteria was probably the most exciting thing about seventh grade. I think we had two options at recess (at least, I can only remember two): gooey, half-cooked (if you chose carefully), hot-out-of-the-oven chocolate chip cookies and Jamaican patties. We only had fifteen minutes, but that was just enough time to race to the cafeteria, pick up either a stack of cookies and a cup of milk in those individual cardboard cartons or a Jamaican patty and eat it before our next class. I’m not sure how the Jamaican patty became a ubiquitous lunchroom staple in the WASPiest neighbourhood of Montreal, but their flaky crusts and spicy meat fillings provided a nice alternative or supplement to the melt-in-your-mouth cookies.

(And while I’m in the process of churning out 1000 words on transitioning to adulthood and Jamaican patties, if the Royal West Academy cafeteria still makes chocolate chip cookies and I could get my hands on a hot batch of them, I think I could produce the War and Peace of food blogging.)

For the uninitiated, Jamaican patties are a Caribbean version of the classic meat-filled-dough foodstuff. Ravioli, empanadas, Jamaican patties… all riffs on the same theme. Jamaican patties really only consist of two components, both of which need to be good to make a good patty: crust and filling. Patty crusts are flaky like a pie crust, owing to a high fat content, but thinner and lighter. If done properly, there should be just the slightest crispiest exterior covering pillowy, steamy dough. The crust is golden yellow due to the addition of turmeric to the dough. Patties are generally filled with ground meat, curry blends, and hot peppers. I grew up on beef patties, but chicken and vegetable patties are relatively common too.

I’m not sure why I bothered with such a long preamble to get to a post about Jamaican patties. Did they represent some newfound freedom that high school brought about? Not really, but they were really, really good and since the early ‘90s, the Jamaican patty has been a staple snack or meal for me. There were two patty shops only blocks away from my house throughout high school, and my father often picked up a bag of them for lunches on weekends or for sustenance during long car trips. In college, when I moved into my first apartments with my buddies, frozen Jamaican patties (Lloydies: inferior in every way to a fresh bakery patty but much more convenient after a night at a bar or studying in the library) were always in our freezer. So while moving to Pittsburgh for graduate school was a huge step for me academically, personally, for my maturity, and so on, I was also unknowingly leaving behind a steady stream of quality Jamaican patties. The only specimens I’ve been able to track down here are barely worth mentioning: frozen for so long in a grocery store freezer that the crust ends up brittle and crumbling and filled with a dry, pasty gray meat. Disappointing to say the least, and the end of the 12-year Patty Era in my life.

So when one of my high school friends moved to Toronto last year and gave me an excuse to drive up there periodically, the one place I asked him to take me on my first visit was his neighbourhood patty shop. And he obliged. The Patty King, in Toronto’s Kensington market, looks like dozens of similar bakeries across Toronto or Montreal which are run and frequented by expatriate Caribbeans and a generation of young Canadians who grew up on patties in our high school cafeterias.

The Patty King’s patties are better than most, and on each of my last three visits to the city, I’ve crossed the border back to the US with a dozen spicy beef patties in the trunk of my car. A new Patty Era is born! We try to make them last, but Tam and I usually end up finishing them off within a week or so. It’s not ideal, but zapping a frozen Patty King patty in the microwave and then baking it for a few minutes in our amazing new toaster oven beats anything that I can find in Pittsburgh by far.

The Patty King also serves up an array of Caribbean dishes and cakes: ox tail, curried goat, ackee, doubles, and so on, but I usually stick with the patties that I grew up on. One of my comfort foods.

Know a good place to get patties in Pittsburgh? I’d love to hear it!

Patty King is located at 187 Baldwin Street in Toronto's Kensington Market neighbourhood. Call (416) 977-3191 for more information.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Udipi Cafe, Monroeville, PA

At the end of the 1970s, George Romero put the Pittsburgh suburb of Monroeville, PA on the map by filming his Dawn of the Dead zombie classic at the local shopping mall. Around the same time, the opening of the Sri Venkateswara temple one mile from the mall was also establishing the area as one of the country's first hubs of Hindu and Indian culture. Since the 1970s, a handful of businesses have opened in the vicinity of the temple to provide services for worshipers, including, most deliciously, Udipi Cafe: an affordable diner-style restaurant specializing in South Indian vegetarian cuisine. Tam and her family have been frequenting Udipi for years, and we make regular visits for meals.

On one recent weekend afternoon, Tam dragged me out of my thesis-writing cave to enjoy lunch there with a couple of friends. I like to start my Udipi meals with a sip of salty lassi, a drink consisting of yogurt and milk laced with salt and whole toasted cumin seeds. Can you tell that I hadn't seen natural light in days?

We almost always start our meal with the dahi vada, an appetizer consisting of deep fried lentil doughnuts which are then soaked in water, chilled, and topped with yogurt, tamarind chutney, spices, and fresh coriander. This cool refreshing starter goes particularly well with a fiery bowl of Udipi's rasam.

Tam always orders her favorite, the chana bhatura (chick peas with fried bread). The chick pea curry comes served with raw onion and a piece of dough fried in oil until it blisters and puffs up with steam to an intimidatingly large size, like a deformed beach ball. It is always rushed piping hot from the kitchen to the table in its impressive inflated state.

Piercing the bhatura with a fork deflates the bread balloon which generally gets torn apart by hand and used to scoop up mouthfuls of curry and onion.

Udipi's dosas are excellent. They are large and expertly prepared: thinly spread like a crepe on a cooking surface until crispy on one side while being just thick enough (a few millimeters) that the other surface stays slightly soft. They are served wrapped or folded over a choice of curries and fillings, and accompanied with small bowls of spicy sambar and cool coconut chutney for dipping. The masala dosa filled with potato curry is particularly good.

Udipi is a no-frills Indian restaurant in the suburbs, but it probably serves the best Indian food in the Pittsburgh area. It's definitely worth a special trip, but you might want to keep your eyes on the Hindu calendar because on holidays, Udipi can be overflowing with worshipers enjoying a post-temple meal.

Udipi Cafe is located at 4141 Old William Penn Highway in Monroeville, PA. Call (412) 373-5581 for more information.