Category Archives: Travel

Review: Yocco’s, The Hot Dog King (Allentown, PA)

There are places that bring back memories, good or bad. Allentown has, and had, a number of restaurants (okay, grease pits) that were known to and loved by most Allentonians. Sadly, most of these are gone now (Vince’s Cheesesteaks, anybody? J’s Hoagies? Take-A-Taco? Bueller?… Bueller?…)

One that’s still around, and as iconic as ever, is Yocco’s, the Hot Dog King. Owned by the Iacocca family (yeah, THAT Iacocca family), the locals had trouble pronouncing their name correctly, so they named their shops after the locals’ unintentional mangling of “Iacocca”. Now there’s a bit of useless trivia…

Yocco's Menu

It looks like Yocco’s has a total of six location in the Lehigh Valley. The Original shop at 625 Liberty Street has short hours and doesn’t sell any food that requires the use of a deep-fryer, alas; still, you can get anything else on their menu, which includes various permutations on burgers, sausage sandwiches, a fairly authentic steak sandwich (remember, they’re just an hour north of Philly via the Northeast Extension), and of course their signature offering, the Yocco’s Hot Dog.

Yocco's Hot Dogs

Yocco’s dogs were, and are, my favorite take on what Ohioans and other Midwesterners refer to as the Coney Dog. A Yocco’s Hot Dog consists of a Hatfield brand hot dog, grilled well-done on a flat-top grill, in a soft steamed hotdog roll with spicy brown mustard, chopped white onions, and a shmear of Yocco’s Chili Sauce. The cheese dog is the same, with a slice of white American cheese inserted beneath the dog where it melts nicely. B says, and I concur, that the regular (non-cheese) dog is the better of the two; we’ve been out here in the land of cheddar-topped cheese coneys, so American cheese on a coney dog seems… weird.

Yocco's Bag

When I stopped at Yocco’s last time we were in Allentown, I got what many people refer to as Yocco’s Allentown Traditional Lunch. That gut bomb consists of three Yocco’s Hot Dogs (with or without cheese), an order of three golden crispy lightly-salted deep-fried pierogis, and a bottle of chocolate milk. Yum.

Yocco's Allentown Traditional Lunch

Speaking of yumminess, I’ve only ever gotten deep-fried pierogis as a side order with fast food in and around Allentown. Nowhere else seems to offer that. Given a choice between limp, bland French fries or crispy golden pierogis, I’ll take the pierogis every time.

Yocco's Pierogies

If you’re ever passing through Allentown, check ‘em out. They’re definitely worth the stop.

South Jersey Edition: Luciano’s FreshMarket

Growing up in South Jersey, I pretty much took the whole eating local thing for granted. I mean, we had an embarrassment of riches to choose from: excellent milk from a the local dairy, garden fresh produce from my grandpop’s back yard or local roadside farm markets, fresh seafood from the Delaware Bay or the ocean. The Jersey Fresh motto encompasses everything that growing up in Cumberland County meant. The city I was born (Vineland) was named that by its founder because of how well grapes grew in our soil and climate. One of our claims to fame is that Thomas Welch himself started making grape juice a block or so away from our main drag. We have some of the best pasta ever (Conte’s is a favorite of mine), wineries, and more. The point is, growing up in South Jersey during the time I did meant Jersey tomatoes, blue crabs from the Bay, ethnic influence from Italy and Puerto Rico, and the cuisine of the area reflected that. That’s why on my last visit back, I was pleasantly surprised to find someone putting out awesome food in a small kitchen tucked away in the back corner of a newly opened public market.

Luciano's Fresh Market (at Landis Marketplace)

The chef in charge of the operation, Lurie Luciano, had similar experiences growing up – we’re fairly close in age, both have many of the same childhood food memories, both let ourselves go out into the world to explore and learn new things (in her case, to New Orleans, where she fine-tuned her culinary skills – in mine, to Columbus, where I started getting adventurous in my eating and taught myself how to cook). We both share similar food philosophies now, and both of us find ourselves drawn to the city where it all began.

To her, returning to South Jersey meant being the first person on board to occupy the new public market (more on that in a separate post – let’s just say for the moment that Luciano’s FreshMarket is the shining star of the place, by far). It means crafting a new menu each week based on what’s seasonal, what’s fresh, what inspires her. She, for the most part, keeps the preparation simple. When you’re working with the best quality of everything, it doesn’t take much to let the ingredients shine. She’s extremely skilled at coaxing out the inherent flavors of the dish, preferring to not drown it out in sauces, heavy seasonings that overwhelm the senses, or the like (which I find is done way too often in Cajun and Creole influenced cuisine). She releases a new menu weekly – here’s the menu from the week I visited in March:

Weekly Menu

Still, even with the printed menu, be sure to check the menu board, where you can sometimes find additional specials. Prices are quite reasonable for the quantity and quality of the food.

Menu Board

We went over the course of two days. I was so impressed the first day that I grabbed my dad and took him with me on the second. Even though he lives in Jersey, he wasn’t aware of its existence. I was lucky to stumble across it at all – I wish it were more visible from the street so that more people would try it out. Once you taste her food, you can’t help but be a convert.

The salmon cakes were solid – reminds me of something I would whip up myself when in the need for comfort food. The sweet potato fries were out of this world, especially when dipped in her remoulade. Together they made my mouth a very happy place. The slaw didn’t stand out to me, but then again I’m not much of a slaw person, so it’s a matter of personal preference.

Salmon Cakes with Sweet Potato Fries & Slaw

The gumbo was full of flavor, built on obvious care in making the roux. I was expecting it to be spicy hot, but it wasn’t – the flavor was quite nuanced with obvious infusion of the trinity. With shreds of chicken throughout, and on top of rice, it was a hearty meal unto itself. Considering it was still quite cold and late winter, it was the kind of stick-to-your-ribs warmth needed to give you the push to face the mad dash to the car in the cold. With the weather tending toward cold again with fall setting in, it’s a perfect choice whenever you see it on the menu.


Anyone who knows me knows how much I love Catfish Po-Boys – hers is a little different than those I have had locally here in Ohio, being topped with a nice crunchy slaw rather than lettuce and tomatoes. The catfish was fried to perfection – flaky and tender and not even a little bit greasy. The remoulade, slathered thickly on the uber-fresh bread, tied the whole sandwich together. The portion was quite generous, with the catfish literally spilling out of the confines of the roll. One of the best examples of the sandwich that I’ve ever had. I still crave this regularly, even 6 months later.

Fried Catfish Po Boy

My dad got the Fried Shrimp Po-Boy, which is a similar take on the sandwich but with shrimp rather than catfish. My dad gave me a taste, and it too was cooked to perfection. Shrimp is very easy to overcook, especially when fried, but her expert hand at cooking seafood means that she nailed this one as well.

Fried Shrimp Po Boy

I was too stuffed to eat the Crab Cake Po-Boy while I was still there, and ate it later in my hotel room. Even cold, it was pretty darn good. I tend to prefer my crab cakes sautéed rather than breaded and deep fried, but even with that in mind I still enjoyed this one immensely.

Crab Cake Po Boy

Along with some more sweet potato fries, we got a crawfish pie – it was a nice small bite, with a bit of heat – an afterthought, really. Thought at the time it would make a great mid-afternoon snack.

Crawfish Pie and Sweet Potato Fries

I also enjoyed the Ahi Tuna Melt, which was seared earlier, and then sliced and topped with cheese that was then melted on top – technically, this ends up cooking the tuna through – but not the kind of through that dries it out and makes it difficult to eat. The texture was still spot on, as was the flavor. Since it used a bun rather than the rolls that are used with the Po-Boy’s, the balance of bread to fish was just right.

Ahi Tuna Melt

I really wish my visit to Jersey had been longer, or that I had discovered it earlier in my trip. If I still lived in Jersey, I’d have likely turned into a regular. I’m on her mailing list, where she sends out the weekly menus, and torture myself regularly reading about delicious stuff that I’d have to drive 10 hours each way to get. But alas, it’s not to be.

There was an article earlier this week in my hometown newspaper, about how she’s not renewing her lease with the market when it expires at the end of the year. Given the circumstances (more about that in the post about the Marketplace – way too complex an issue to get into right this second), I would probably do the same thing, but I’m still sad to see her go. I have no doubt she’ll land squarely on her feet and will be off and running once she finds the right location, but you still have a couple of months left to give this place a try while it’s the same concept in the same location. Trust me when I say it’s worth the trip even if that’s your sole purpose for going there. It’s a bit of bright light in a corner of Vineland that people unfortunately write off because of preconceived notions. Once you try it, if you like it, let Lurie know. You can’t miss her – she’s the redhead at the counter with infectious smile and passion for all things local. Personally, I’d love to see her do a food truck of some sort in the interim – I think it would be a great match with the nature of the food she puts out. And be sure to keep an eye on her website – she posts regular menu updates and gives other pertinent info about hours and special events. I hear the lobster pot pies this week are to die for.

If you’d like to go: Luciano’s FreshMarket/New Orleans Seafood Kitchen (inside the Landis MarketPlace), 631 E. Landis Ave., Vineland, NJ 08360. 609-970-7653. Also on Twitter.

South Jersey Edition: Pegasus Restaurant

If there’s one thing I remember about growing up in New Jersey, it was that every adventure was punctuated by a visit to a diner. In South Jersey, especially, diners were as ubiquitous as trees. Every town, no matter how small, had at least one (if not more). The ones that I remember from my childhood no longer exist (Presidential Diner, I’m looking at you – and miss you and your Belgian Waffles with Strawberries terribly), but due to their ubiquitous nature, there’s always another diner around the next corner.

Pegasus has existed for a few decades now, but since it was in the next town over (and much of my time living in South Jersey was as a non-driver), I had never been there. It was a mini family reunion, of sorts – I went with my father and his significant other, and also had the opportunity to visit with my Uncle Will and Aunt Susie. It seems as if all of the above are regulars there, as is the norm in most diners – service was quick, friendly, and very accommodating to special requests (extra crispy potatoes, and no olives in my omelette in my case).

About that omelette – it doesn’t look like much, but it has to be one of the best I’ve had in quite a while – a nice balance of flavors, and purely vegetarian. I’ve tried like crazy to replicate it here at home since I’ve been back, to no avail. I guess you need a flat-top grill seasoned with the flavors of many years to get it just right.

Mediterranean Omelette and Home Fries

One of the things I’ve missed since moving to Ohio is having the option of ordering pork roll (or scrapple) as my side of meat with my breakfast. Yes, I know I can get Taylor Pork Roll at a few of the specialty stores around here, but really – it’s just not the same cooked at home.

Pork Roll

The fruit cup, in retrospect, I could have taken or left. I love fresh fruit with breakfast, but this combination has definitely seen better days.

Fresh Fruit Cup

Would I go back? Definitely. Prices were reasonable, service was great, and food was definitely above average.

If you’d like to go: Pegasus Restaurant, 455 Delsea Dr., Malaga, NJ. 856-694-0500. Also on Facebook.

Pegasus Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Updated manual worth the wait

Chicago Sun-Times February 16, 1992 | Les Hausner Since it first arrived in bookstores in 1973, Reader’s Digest’s popular Complete Do-It-Yourself Manual has sold 10.5 million copies. this web site how to install a dishwasher

This is the manual I normally check first when seeking help on a project around the house.

After 23 revisions, the book has been completely rewritten and illustrated and retitled New Complete Do-It-Yourself Manual. The cover price is $30 – actually a bargain for any homeowner interested in keeping the house or making improvements without having to call in a professional.

Of course, no manual ever deserves the word “complete” in its title, but this book comes close to achieving that end.

There are some new chapters, including emergency repairs, which offers immediate stopgap solutions for power outages, clogged drains and leaky roofs. “Your House” is a new chapter dealing with the house structure, hiring a contractor, building codes and financing repairs.

The book’s updating reflects our changing lifestyles. For example, the chapter on plumbing gives well-illustrated instructions for installing whirlpool baths. The electricity section tells us how to install home security systems, telephone wiring and smoke detectors.

The chapter on woodworking should be helpful to anyone trying to solve the mysteries of cutting joints, grooves and miters.

There is much that is new in New Complete Do-It-Yourself Manual, and the book is an excellent primer for one wanting to learn how to paint or wallpaper, repair and install floors, and make plumbing and electrical repairs and installations.

No doubt a revision of this manual already is in the planning stage. I have a suggestion for at least one addition: How to install a dishwasher. This should have accompanied the instructions on installing a garbage disposal.

About seven years ago, I installed a dishwasher in less than two hours and with the aid of simple tools after a craftsman quoted me a price of $210 for labor alone. I wonder what it would cost today? go to web site how to install a dishwasher

I am not certain what Charles H. Self had in mind when he compiled Making Pet Houses, Carriers & Other Projects (Sterling Publishing, $9.95 paperback).

I presumed such a book would present a wide assortment of original plans for pet structures and would be accompanied by clear illustrations. That is what the do-it-yourself book trade is about.

Instead, I discovered that half the 128-page book is devoted to woodworking and refinishing techniques.

Many of the photos are of tools with the brand names prominently displayed. A snapshot of a bottle of (I won’t name the brand) hide glue does nothing to help anyone complete a proejct. The same goes for a photo of a set of chisels, which does not explain the particular use of any of them.

Plans for building two dog houses were obtained from the American Plywood Association, which also supplied color photos of their finished projects. We have to guess how the other products will look after completion.

Save your money. You can write to the American Plywood Association, Box 11700, Tacoma, Wash. 98411, for a free catalog of plywood products, including pet products.

There is a charge, probably $2, for an individual pattern. If you want a videotape explaining how to do it, the charge is $15.95.

Les Hausner

Event: MSHS '90 Reunion

To start off my series of posts about my last two trips to New Jersey, I thought I’d start by talking about my reason for making the first trip – my twenty year high school reunion. Technically, I didn’t graduate from any high school (I got a GED many years later), but since I had to pick one, I went with the one where I would see the most familiar faces – Millville (NJ) Senior High School Class of ’90 Reunion. I went to private school until 6th grade, but I’ve known many of these people since my junior high days (7th grade onward). Many others I met when I started high school (9th grade at Memorial). But good God, did those 20 years since 1990 go fast or what? I’ve lived a whole other lifetime since then, and strangely enough, even though this reunion was a little over a year ago, it feels like I’ve lived a whole other lifetime since then. Who knew so much would happen during 2011?

Here I am with my friend Amy.

Me & Amy at MSHS '90 Reunion

The memorial they put together for classmates who have passed was touching, especially for me since two of my very close friends were among them. Strange that only me and one other person from my core group of friends have survived. But the world is a less bright place without these people in it.

Gone But Not Forgotten - MSHS '90 Reunion

The food? Let’s just say that it was a bit underwhelming. There was an open bar, though – with a bartender with a heavy hand, so I don’t think people really noticed the bad food, LOL.

The toasted ravioli? Seemed straight out of a food service box, but probably one of the better things I ate that night.

Toasted Ravioli at the MSHS '90 Reunion

The same goes for the chicken, which was served on skewers.

Chicken at the MSHS '90 Reunion

The rest? Well, take a look for yourself. None is really worth mentioning separately, except the roast beef, which was so overdone it wasn’t funny. It was one of those “what did that poor cow ever do to you to deserve this?” kind of moments.

Garden Salad at MSHS '90 Reunion

Caesar Salad at MSHS '90 Reunion

Bread at the MSHS '90 Reunion

Rolls at MSHS '90 Reunion

Butter at the MSHS '90 Reunion

Roast Beef at the MSHS '90 Reunion

Pasta served at MSHS '90 Reunion

Desserts at MSHS '90 Reunion

Fruit Skewers at MSHS '90 Reunion

Mystery Fluff at MSHS '90 Reunion

So, all in all, it wasn’t about the food. Not in the least. It was about making the effort to say hi to everyone (even those who were less than nice to me in high school), it was about some people changing so much they were unrecognizable, about other people being exactly the same (nice people and douches alike), and it was about realizing that people that I thought had it all together and leading perfect lives living anything but. I misjudged a lot of people back then, in the same way that many people misjudged me. Most of all it was about new beginnings – making new friends, reconnecting with old ones, and everything in between. So how many of you attended your high school reunions? And how many of you had your expectations turned around on you as well?

Rapide set to be made in region.(Features)

Birmingham Mail (England) June 10, 2011 Byline: Edward Stephens THE exotic four-door Aston Martin Rapide is to be made in Britain three years after it became the first of the company’s cars to be built overseas.

Aston chief executive Dr Ulrich Bez has announced that from next year the car will be produced at the firm’s headquarters at Gaydon in Warwickshire. go to site aston martin rapide

Since 2009 the pounds 150,000 supercar has been made in Austria at a purpose-built facility at the Magna Steyr factory near Graz.

“In 2008 we had facility restrictions at Gaydon which indicated that production of Rapide at Gaydon would likely compromise production of our other cars,” said Dr Bez. “We were not prepared to do this.

“Now, three years on things are very different – Gaydon is more established, more flexible and more efficient.

“While our overall volume has not changed significantly, we now produce a far richer model mix – eight model lines (plus five variants) compared to three model lines (plus two variants) in 2008 – so Rapide production is now possible.” The Rapide is the first fourdoor, four-seat car Aston Martin has made. Last year the company sold 1,080 cars, down almost nine per cent on 2009 sales. here aston martin rapide

Work on the transfer will start immediately and the first Rapides should be built at Gaydon by the second half of 2012.


The four-door Aston Martin Rapide is to be made at Gaydon in Warwickshire.

Just a Jersey Girl at Heart

First things first – I’m one of Columbus’ biggest fans. Even though I am her resident by choice, not birthright, this not-so-sleepy burg in the center of Ohio has always meant a host of things to my life: new beginnings, coming into my own, learning to trust myself and others again. In many ways, I’ve watched the growth of the city parallel my own over the last almost two decades. No matter where I go in the world, I’m always one of Columbus’ biggest ambassadors. I truly believe we have something special here, and I endeavor to bust the stereotypes of our flyover state image on a daily basis.

Still, no matter how long I’ve been here, no matter how long I stay here, it will never be “home” for me. South Jersey, will always, and I mean ALWAYS, have that dubious distinction for me. Warts and all, it’s the place where I was born and the place I spent the first 23 years of my life. It’s the place where I know ten ways to get anywhere on back country roads within a half hour, the place that even though is eerily familiar, it never ceases to surprise me each time I visit. It’s a place where local has been a way of life longer than I’ve been alive.

If your image of New Jersey begins and ends with Snooki and Co. and involves a punchline about an exit off the turnpike, prepare to have your preconceived notions busted. That’s not the New Jersey I know. Even though I’ve talked about New Jersey before in my blog entries, I don’t think I’ve ever gone into great detail about why I love it so. I’ve just returned from a very cathartic two week trip (thus the radio silence on my end, as I’ve been out living life to its fullest rather than experiencing it from the periphery). This time around, though – I took pictures, and lots of them. So, in the upcoming couple of weeks, expect a bunch of entries about my trips – both this one, and my visit to New Jersey in late 2010 for my reunion (right before I got really sick). And in the upcoming months, I’ll probably be making another substantially long visit as well during the summer months, one where I’ll talk about the real Jersey shore, what Jersey Fresh really means, and about one of my favorite Jersey pastimes – fishing and crabbing.

I really feel as if I’m at a crossroads. Almost dying changed almost everything about my life, and the pull of home gets stronger each time I visit. It’s like a tug of war with the best of each world pulling me in that direction. This year will be about the ties that bind me to each locale, and about figuring out what’s most important in my life. Thanks for taking the journey with me. 

Brazilian Beef Stew (Feijoada)

When I went to Brazil a few years back, I did so with the intention of experiencing everything the culture had to offer – fate (and a problem with an epidural that left me not being able to eat because of the severe nausea) intervened, and the three weeks there became a challenge. One of the few things I was able to tolerate was feijoada. While this isn’t an exact replica of what we had in Brazil, it came pretty darn close. Serve it with some plain white rice.

Brazilian Beef Stew (Feijoada) and Rice

Brazilian Beef Stew (Feijoada)
recipe from Cuisine at Home magazine

1 lb. beef stew meat, seasoned with salt and pepper
1 tbsp. vegetable oil
8 oz. kielbasa, sliced into ½-inch thick rounds
¼ c. orange juice
1 ½ c. diced onions
1 (14.5 oz.) can diced tomatoes
1 (15 oz.) can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 (15 oz.) can black beans, drained, rinsed and pureed
2 tbsp. minced garlic
1 tbsp. chili powder
1 tbsp. red wine vinegar
Sliced jalapenos
Orange wedges
Orange zest

Brown meat in oil in batches in a large skillet over medium-high heat, about 5 minutes per batch. Transfer meat to a paper-towel lined plate. Brown kielbasa in same skillet, 3 minutes per batch. Transfer to a paper-towel lined plate.

Deglaze skillet with orange juice, scraping up brown bits on bottom of pan; set aside.

Combine onions, tomatoes, beans, garlic, and chili powder in a 4 to 6 quart slow cooker. Stir in browned meats and deglazing liquid. Cover slow cooker; cook on high setting until steak is fork tender, 4 hours.

Add vinegar and season with salt and pepper. Garnish each serving of stew with jalapeno slices, orange wedges and zest.

Learning to Cook Sous Vide at Market District Robinson

Back in October, a few of us local food bloggers were invited to attend the grand opening of Giant Eagle Market District at Kingsdale, and we enjoyed a day full of open access to experts and a grand tour of the place. During the course of that day, I spoke to Donna, who handles online marketing, asking about the differences between our Market District here in Ohio and the original ones in the Pittsburgh area. She explained that there’s a cooking school in their store, but that the square footage difference wasn’t all that much. We bandied about the idea of me coming out to take a class (since Pittsburgh is so close), but I put it at the back of my mind.

Fast forward about two months, and I receive an email from Donna inviting Paul and I to come to Pennsylvania for a cooking class, with accommodations for the evening provided by them. The timing couldn’t be better, with Paul getting ready to go on furlough. So we accepted their invitation and made plans to visit a few other places while in the Pittsburgh area.

After about a three hour drive from Columbus, we arrived in Robinson Township, Pennsylvania, and outlying suburb of Pittsburgh. To be honest, it reminded me of a Columbus suburb, but then again – aren’t all suburbs pretty much the same? Our accommodations were in the very nice, very new Courtyard at Marriott hotel across the street, and we took a couple of minutes to settle in and freshen up before heading up to the store for the cooking lesson. We met Donna and a few other Market District employees and headed up to the second floor for the cooking class, where we met the instructors. Chef Keira (on the left) is in charge of the Cooking School, and for the class we were taking, Chef Lawrence (middle) and Chef Scott (right) were the instructors.

Chefs Keira, Lawrence and Scott

To take the edge off our hunger, we snacked on some nuts and cookies that they had laid out for us.

Pre-Class Snacks

The topic for the evening was Sous Vide Cooking, wherein one vacuum seals their food and then immerses it into a circulator where water temperature is controlled exactly, leading to some pretty stellar results. Although I’ll describe the class in detail and leave the original recipes intact, I’ll also provide suggestions on how to make a similar dish without the Sous Vide equipment.

BLT with Smoked Pork Belly

Smoked BLT
recipe courtesy Giant Eagle Market District

6 slices of Brioche bread, toasted
1 batch of roasted Roma tomatoes
1 head of hydroponic Bibb lettuce
1 lb. pork belly, cut into slices
1/2 c. aioli
1 tbsp. apple wood chips
12 sprigs of rosemary, bottom leaves removed

Season the pork belly with fresh cracked black pepper. In a large skillet, over medium low heat, add the pork belly to the pan and start to render the fat out of the pork. Then start to dump the fat as it accumulates in the pan to help crisp up the bacon. Turn up to medium high heat and cook for 5 minutes a side to brown up the pork belly. Once the pork is cooked, place on paper towels to absorb the excess grease. Transfer all of the pork belly to a mixing bowl and cover with plastic wrap and cut a small hole. Place the apple wood chips into the smoking chamber of the smoking gun and put the hose in the bowl. Light the chips with a lighter and turn on the machine and let the bowl fill up completely with smoke then turn off and cover hole with another sheet of plastic wrap. Let this sit for 10 minutes to absorb the smoky flavor.

In the meantime, place 2 leaves of Bibb lettuce on the bottom piece of bread, then place tomatoes on top. Spread 2 tbsp. of aioli on the top piece of bread, then place 4 strips of smoked pork belly on top of the tomatoes. Place the 2nd piece of bread on top and secure with 4 sprigs of rosemary. Then cut from quarter to quarter to form small triangles. Before serving light the rosemary on fire to smoke and serve.

If you don’t have a smoking gun: skip those steps and use double-smoked slab bacon instead – cut into slices and proceed as usual.

The smoking gun is a neat little gadget, though – here Chef Scott is demonstrating for us how to use it.

Chef Scott Demonstrating Smoking Gun

But this isn’t the type of class where you can sit back and rest on your laurels while the chefs do all the work. This is hands on, baby! All the ingredients for each recipe were already set out for us.

Mis En Place for Steaks

Chef Scott walked us through vacuum sealing our bags – a secret to getting it right is getting the contents of the bag as flat as possible so it cooks evenly.

Chef Scott Demonstrating Vacuum Sealing

Off they went into the immersion circulator so we could get started working on the next dish.

Immersion Circulators

I was super psyched that we were making risotto – it is one of my favorite dishes to prepare because although it’s time consuming, it’s hard to screw up.

Mis En Place for Risotto

Paul grabbed a knife and went to work chopping shallots.

Paul Chopping Shallots

While Chef Scott demonstrated the proper way to do it at the instructors stove at the center of the room. That’s the only thing about a cooking class that frustrates me a bit – needing to work at the pace of the chef. Because Paul and I do know how to cook, risotto making is old hat for us and we have our own methods. For one night only, you need to set all you know aside and follow directions.

Chef Scott Working on his Risotto

We also made some sous vide filet mignon. Mmmm…

Sous Vide Filet Mignon

Filet Mignon Sous Vide
recipe courtesy Giant Eagle Market District

1 oz. grape seed oil
4 petite filets
4 sprigs of thyme
2 sprigs of rosemary
4 sage leaves
6 cloves of roasted garlic
4 tbsp. truffle butter
Salt & pepper to taste
2 vacuum seal bags

Clamp the immersion circulator to the side of a large hotel pan or cambro and add hot water to the fill line and set the machine to the desired serving temperature. Heat a large heavy bottomed skillet over high heat. Season filets with salt and pepper on all sides and add oil to the pan. Then sear the filets for 1 minute, then flip and sear the other side until you achieve a nice brown crust. Place the meat in the vacuum seal bags and submerge the bag in an ice bath to chill down to 40F. Once the meat has thoroughly chilled, place half of all seasonings in each of the bags. Seal the pouches according to the machine’s recommendations. Then place the pouches in hot water bath and cook until the meat reaches the desired serving temperature. Once cooked, remove pouch from water bath and let rest 10 minutes before serving.

Note for those without an immersion circulator: grill or prepare steak as usual, spoon truffle butter on your steak when it is done to your liking.

However, there is a benefit to cooking it sous vide – even though it looks kind of grey on the outside, check out the inside – evenly and perfectly cooked from edge to edge.

Close Up of Sous Vide Filet Mignon

The risotto was a perfect side for this. This recipe is definitely a keeper, although I think it only needs 1 cup of cream (already whipped) rather than whipping a whole cup of cream and folding it in. Here at home we just mix the mushroom duxelle through.

Risotto with Mushroom Duxelle

Porcini Scented Mushroom Risotto
recipe courtesy Giant Eagle Market District

2 tbsp. grape seed oil
1/3 c. shallots, chopped
1 c. Arborio rice
1/2 c. white wine
4 c. Market District chicken stock
1 c. heavy cream, whipped
1/4 c. Parmesan Reggiano cheese, grated
Salt & Pepper to taste
1 tbsp. dried porcini mushrooms, chopped

Heat oil in a large sauce pan over medium heat, then sweat the shallots until translucent. Toss in the Arborio rice and cook, stirring, until the rice is toasted, about 2 minutes. Deglaze the pan with the white wine and cook until the wine is absorbed. Start to add in the stock about 1/2 cup at a time, allowing each addition to fully absorb before adding more liquid. Once the rice is close, the absorption of the stock will start to slow down. Repeat the process until the rice is tender, about 20 minutes. Add in the cheese and taste, then season accordingly with salt and pepper. Then fold in the whipped cream.

If you have access to a smoking gun: Place plastic wrap over the pot and cut a small hole and insert the tube from the smoking gun. Place the dried mushrooms in the burning chamber and light with a lighter, then turn on the smoking gun. Let the machine run until the pot is filled with smoke, then turn off and place another sheet of plastic wrap on top after removing the house to seal. Let the risotto stand for 5-10 minutes to absorb the mushroom flavor, then serve.

If you don’t have a smoking gun: mix the mushroom duxelle (recipe below) into the finished risotto.

Once again, the ingredients were already set out for us:

Mis en Place for Mushroom Duxelles

Mushroom Duxelle
recipe courtesy Giant Eagle Market District

3 tbsp. unsalted butter, sliced
2 tbsp. shallots, chopped
8 oz. crimini (baby bella) mushrooms, finely chopped
1/4 c. heavy cream
1 tbsp. fresh sage, chopped
1 tbsp. fresh thyme, chopped
1 tsp. fresh rosemary, chopped
2 tbsp. Parmesan cheese, grated

Heat a large skillet over medium high heat and melt butter. Once the butter has stopped foaming up, add in shallots and saute for 2 minutes. Then toss in the mushrooms and cook until the liquid has cooked out and the mushrooms have browned. Pour in the heavy cream, fresh herbs and the Parmesan cheese and simmer until the mixture has thickened up to a paste-like consistency. Taste the mixture and season accordingly with salt and pepper to taste.

The biggest surprise for me is the carrots. I loved them prepared this way. But since I don’t have a sous vide unit at home, I found another way to make them that gives a similar end result. Their recipe first, then my adaptation after that.

Sous Vide Carrots

Tri Color Carrots Sous Vide
recipe courtesy Giant Eagle Market District

1 tbsp. grape seed oil
2 lbs. tri color carrots, cut on the bias
3 sprigs of thyme
1 small shallot, sliced
3 tbsp. good quality unsalted butter
2 vacuum seal bags

Clamp the immersion circulator to a large hotel pan or stock pot and add hot water to the fill line and set the machine to 185F. Cut the carrots on a hard bias to expose as much of the carrot to the water as possible. Toss carrots in a bowl with 1 tbsp. oil and season with salt and pepper to taste. Then place carrots in the vacuum bags in a single evenly spaced layer then toss in the thyme, shallots and butter. Seal the pouch according to the machines instructions. Place the carrot pouch in the water bath and cook for 40 minutes or until tender. Remove the carrots from the water bath, season again with salt and pepper and serve. You can saute them lightly to get a little color on them and glaze the carrots with the remaining liquid from the bag.

Adaptation: Cut carrots as described above, and steam them until tender. Toss with a couple tablespoons of butter, salt and pepper, and Lighthouse Salad Herb Blend to taste.

The best part of the cooking class is that you get to eat what you made after. Doesn’t this look delicious? Paul and I had the foolish idea that we would eat dinner after this class…no friggin’ way. I was so full.

Plated Sous Vide Meal

They provided dessert as well, but I didn’t get around to eating it that night and boxed it up for later.

Dessert at Sous Vide Cooking Class

Now, a couple of things going on at the Robinson store that I thought was really neat. For the most part, it’s like the one we have here, but the layout of our store flows better, I think. In their produce section, they’ve got this hydroponic garden set up, growing things like butter lettuce, basil and other herbs, which they later either use in making the prepared foods in the restaurant area or sell to the public.

Hydroponic Growing System

And having lived in Pennsylvania with my husband, I know that beer in grocery stores is a no-no there. So color me surprised when I saw beer for sale in the market. There’s a catch, though. It’s licensed as a restaurant, and that’s why they are able to do it. Because of this, though – the divisions between store and restaurant are more closely enforced than is in our Market District.

Beer? In a Store in Pennsylvania?

We never did get the chance to explore Pittsburgh. We were too stuffed the night before, and when we left, we were trying to beat the snow home (we failed – it caught up to us in Cambridge, OH).

All is not lost, though – close to Pittsburgh is a convenience store/gas station that makes the best darn nachos ever. Piled on with as much good stuff as you want for like $3.50 or so. It took me most of the trip to finish them! Lord, how I wish we had a Sheetz closer to us.

Nachos from Sheetz

A big thank you to Donna Pahel and her marketing team for putting the event together – they’ve got a bunch of people working there who are passionate about what they do and truly seem to enjoy their work. Their enthusiasm is contagious!

For more information and the cooking school schedule, visit the Market District Robinson web site.

FTC Disclosure: In the course of the event, we received the following considerations, which did not affect our final review in the least: 1 night hotel accommodations, free cooking class for two (including meal, wine, and other beverages), swag bag of Giant Eagle products.

San Francisco: Day 3

Ah, now that I’m back from NJ and back in front of a working computer (the Bluetooth on my MSI Wind bought the farm, and P. was kind enough to give me his Netbook since he rarely uses it), I can finally finish the story about my trip to San Francisco.

I was up really early on Sunday morning, partly because I had gotten plenty of sleep the night before, partly because I knew I had a couple of places to hit before going to the airport. I had scheduled a later flight to return home because the earlier flights would have had me missing the Farewell Brunch, but once I realized I wasn’t going to the brunch, I wanted to see if I could get an earlier flight. Can I just interject that Delta is a nightmare to deal with? Based on some bad information I was given by one of their customer service droids, I had rescheduled the airport shuttle to pick me up at the Ferry Building at 10:30 rather than noon. When I called in at 10am like I was supposed to (to be able to get an earlier flight for an extra $50), I was told, nope ain’t gonna happen. Grrr.

But about the Ferry Building – the day before I had tried to buy some canneles from Boulette’s Larder, but they were sold out – so I preordered (and prepaid) for some canneles that I would pick up the next morning when they opened.

Since I got there well before they opened (at 9:15ish) and since I had all my luggage with me (minus the stuff I had shipped back home via FedEx), I planted my butt across the way at the Frog Hollow Farm space. I ordered some hot chocolate to pass the time.

SFO Day 3: Hot Cocoa from Frog Hollow Farms @ Ferry Market Building

And since I didn’t know when I’d eat again next, I ordered a carnitas empanada. Not too filling, and a good way to start the day.

SFO Day 3: Carnitas Empanada from Frog Hollow @ Ferry Market Building

Canneles in hand, and it raining like crazy outside, I planted myself on the front steps of the Ferry Building to wait for my shuttle. I got to the airport, breezed through security (fortunately, they hadn’t started using the full body scanners at SFO yet – cause I’ll be in for the pat-down of my life when they do, because I can’t raise my left arm above my head without losing circulation in it).  Then started the big long wait, considering I got there at noon and my flight to LAX wasn’t until 6pm.

Some time in the afternoon I gave into hunger and went into the only sit-down restaurant in the United terminal. BIG mistake. Easily one of the worst meals I’ve had this year.

Since I had a long wait ahead of me (both for my food and my flight), I decided to order a cocktail. Another big mistake. While the underlying mixer wasn’t that bad, it got absolutely ruined by the rotgut they call vodka there. $8 down the drain.

SFO Day 3: Bloody Mary at San Francisco Airport

From their appetizer menu, I ordered their crab cake sliders ($13.50?), minus the buns (since the last thing I wanted was to load up on carbs). Man, are those some sorry looking crab cakes or what? Teeny tiny and mostly filler. The salad was the best part of this dish, and it was just some romaine w/ OTC salad dressing and a few croutons.

SFO Day 3: Crab Cakes/Caesar Salad at San Francisco Airport

I also ordered their special of the day, a lamb shank served with pilaf ($22.95?), which was also pretty darn nasty. The shank was cooked unevenly (some parts were super tough, others were fall apart tender), and the olives ruined the whole dish for me. I don’t mind olive oil, but don’t like actual olives. I ate what I could of it, but still left over half behind because it was inedible.

SFO Day 3: Lamb Shank at San Francisco Airport

Truthfully, this was pretty much the last thing I ate before getting home. Delta was having major problems with their equipment, so our flight ended up being delayed for 2+ hours, and whatever short layover I would have at LAX was eaten up by the delays. We got there in just enough time to find a bathroom, because they were boarding for my flight to CMH when I got back 5 minutes later.

I loved San Francisco from a food perspective, but wish I had more time to explore, and had someone with me that I could explore with. As it stood, I was glad to get home to be fed a real home cooked meal.

San Francisco: Day 2, Part 2

So – the rest of day 2. After P. convinced me that I shouldn’t miss an event I wanted to attend because of other people, I walked the 4 or 5 blocks over to the CityView at the Metreon, which seemed to me to be a multi-floor shopping mall. The walk was blissfully short, with very few to no hills – always a blessing when attempting a walk in San Francisco.

The view from the roof of the Metreon was pretty. I don’t know enough about San Francisco geography to tell you exactly what buildings you’re looking at, but I believe it is the Financial District.

SFO Day 2: View of the San Francisco Skyline from the Roof of the Metreon

When they finally let the lot of us loose, it was quite the free for all. Imagine 300 people in a single room all trying to get the same shot, with half of them reaching into your shot while they weren’t taking photos. And imagine this taking place in a room where there’s not much space to be able to comfortably maneuver. It was definitely a bit claustrophobic there, which is why I headed outside to the roof from time to time.

Other than the negative experiences I talked about before, there were things I liked about this event, and things I hated. The likes? I got to talk to some smaller producers face to face, got to try their stuff (although unless I order by mail it’s untenable for me to buy it regularly). The negatives? It was, in some ways, like one big commercial. I understand why they (Foodbuzz) bring big name sponsors on board (to be able to let Featured Publishers attend the conference for free), but it got a bit tiresome when the breakout sessions were “Fresh Express Salad” this or the brunch was “Nature’s Pride” that. Truthfully, I would have rather paid for admission to the conference than deal with the commercialism. Remember Woodstock 94, and how it was sponsored by Pepsi? There’s a reason not many people remember it, but do remember Woodstock 69 – the first was an organic gathering that let the participants determine the vibe and flow, the other was a corporate sponsored joke planned to the gills to satisfy the stakeholders. Not saying that the Foodbuzz conference is/was a joke, but just putting it out there that I’m not the only one who feels this way.

That being said, there were some goodies to be had – like yummy sausages and salamis from Saags. They had some of this in the swag bag that I had noshed on after I got to the hotel on Friday afternoon. Good stuff.

SFO Day 2: Saag's Meats

And yum, more of those delicious Warren Pears from Frog Hollow Farm.

SFO Day 2: Pears from Frog Hollow Farms

And I’ll never turn down a piece of cheese.

SFO Day 2: Cheese

Alexia had onion rings and sweet potato fries. The fries were definitely not my thing, and the onion rings weren’t bad, although I’ve had much better.

SFO Day 2: Alexia Onion Rings & Sweet Potato Fries

Probably one of the best things I had there was this mushroom soup. Unsure of which restaurant made this, although one of the other attendees reading this may know. Anyone? Bueller?

SFO Day 2: Chanterelle Soup

Prather Ranch Meats were handing out Bockwurst with sauerkraut and mustard. Again, good stuff.

SFO Day 2: Prather Ranch Meats

A closer view:

SFO Day 2: Bockwurst

I’ve got to say, I mostly abstained from eating cupcakes during this weekend, but this Swiss Almond Cupcake from Mission Minis was the bomb.

SFO Day 2: Swiss Almond Cupcake from Mission Minis

One of my favorite things I tried during this event was the salad beets from Pick-a-Peck. They were delicious. Unlike most pickled beets which are too sweet, these are just right. Just a little sweet and very tangy. This would be one thing that I would consider ordering mail order.

SFO Day 2: Various Pick-a-Peck Pickled Veggies

I was so not impressed by the Frisee Salad at the Fresh Express stand, but that could just be that I can’t eat frisee without choking on it (not taste, just the way it feels going down).

SFO Day 2: Fresh Express Frisee Salad

The Tyler Florence stand had a squash soup with herbed shortbreads. Yum, wish they’d give the recipe for this.

SFO Day 2: Squash Soup with Herbed Shortbread

I’m not a fan of nori, but really enjoyed this nori salt – it was fantastic on tomatoes that were tossed in olive oil.

SFO Day 2: Nori Salt on Tomatoes

Definitely enjoyed the salt and pepper pistachios, even though pistachios are something I usually cook with rather than eating out of hand.

SFO Day 2: Various Pistachios

Tried this Inna Jam raspberry jam, which I thought also had jalapeno in it, but based on taste, I don’t think they did. Still, an excellent tasting raspberry jam.

SFO Day 2: Inna Jam

You all know I can’t resist chocolate with sea salt…

SFO Day 2: Chocolate Tasting

This brittle from PopCandy is very addictive.

SFO Day 2: Various Brittles

One of the vendors had made a chile gazpacho with shrimp which was a little too spicy for my tastes. But pretty presentation.

SFO Day 2: Chile Gazpacho with Shrimp

There were a couple of other booths (the Alaska Seafood make your own fish tacos being one of them), but the lines were so outrageous that I wanted to get out of there.

I skipped out on the Gala dinner on Day 2 for reasons given in another entry, so I think my dinner in my hotel room of farmers market purchases was just as satisfying. Definitely feeling sleep deprived, I decided to get a good night’s sleep in preparation for travel the next day.

Next Up: My final eats in San Francisco, why you should never eat airport food, and my retrospective look at the Foodbuzz conference.

San Francisco: Day 2, Part 1

To tell you the truth, the best (and the most restorative to the soul) part of my trip to San Francisco happened on Saturday morning. You all know how gung-ho I am about farmers markets, and here I was – visiting on one of the days that one of the country’s most famous farmers markets was taking place – the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market.

As I approached the building early on Saturday morning right as the sun was coming up, I was struck by how beautiful the clock tower was against the morning sky.

SFO Day 2: Ferry Market Building

Saturday mornings are when the biggest market of the week goes on, where there are upwards of 120 different vendors both in front of and behind the building proper. Many of them are vendors from inside bringing their yummy foodstuffs outside. If you stop by the information booth on your way in, it’s much easier to navigate all there is to offer.

SFO Day 2: Info Booth for the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market

Some sights are very familiar to us here in Columbus – after all, most of what has been available for the past month here is apples and winter squash. So I didn’t get too excited about seeing more apples, although I’m sure they are delicious.

SFO Day 2: Apples from the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market

On the other hand, pomegranates are something we don’t grow in Ohio, so it was a bit strange for me to see something at a farmers market that I usually buy at the grocery store.

SFO Day 2: Pomegranates from the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market

The only thing that bummed me out about hitting this farmers market was my inability to get anything that required a kitchen, because this broccoli looked absolutely amazing to me.

SFO Day 2: Broccoli from the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market

OMG OMG OMG. Strawberries? In November? :::sigh::: only 6 or so more months to go until we get local strawberries here in Columbus.

SFO Day 2: Strawberries from the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market

I’m not a fan of artichokes myself, but aren’t these some gorgeous specimens?

SFO Day 2: Artichokes at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market

And grapes, grapes, grapes, as far as the eye could see…

SFO Day 2: Grapes at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market

Flawless, super colorful bell peppers again made me long for a kitchen and some cookware.

SFO Day 2: Colorful Bell Peppers at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market

Luckily, much of the market stalls offered dried and/or smoked foods. If I weren’t worried about bringing it back on the plane, I would have bought some of this smoked fish.

SFO Day 2: Smoked Fish from the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market

Persimmons are another one of those fruits I don’t see locally. Anyone know what these taste like?

SFO Day 2: Persimmons at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market

Cure your own olives? Really? P. would have loved this.

SFO Day 2: Olives at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market

I did get some eggplant dip from this stand (wish I would have remembered the name of it!) along with some pita bites to eat later on in my hotel room.

SFO Day 2: Various Mediterranean Dips at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market

Sunchokes are one of those things that I have tons of recipes for, but have never been able to find locally.

SFO Day 2: Sunchokes from the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market

And I’ve never seen or tasted a kiwano in my life, but they sure look interesting.

SFO Day 2: Kiwanos at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market

Beans, beans and more beans. And across the way, I stumbled across Rancho Gordo, whose beans I’ve seen in local stores. If I didn’t already have a glut of dried beans at home that I need to work my way through…

SFO Day 2: Beans at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market

This is a Buddha’s Hand – a citrus fruit mostly used for zest. At this same stand were some of the most delicious Valencia oranges I’ve eaten in my life.

SFO Day 2: Buddha's Hand at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market

A little after 9am, I hit up Roli Roti – if I were impressed by the 3 or 4 rolls of porchetta they had going the night before, I was doubly impressed by the collection of chickens they also had going.

SFO Day 2: Lots and Lots of Pork and Chicken from Roli Roti at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market

The view from the pier behind the Ferry Building is breathtaking. I decided to eat my meal at a picnic table facing this, and could stare at it for hours.

SFO Day 2: Bay Bridge

I got a whole porchetta sandwich this time around ($8.50), and I think it was even better this time around than it was the night before. Part of why it is so good is the roll, which is made by Acme Bread Co., right inside the Ferry Building.  The sandwich was so huge I still could only eat half of it in one sitting.

SFO Day 2: Porchetta Sandwich from Roli Roti at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market

I did opt for a small side of their potatoes ($3.50), which when finished with coarse sea salt and rosemary were the perfect accompaniment to that wonderful sandwich. Honestly, folks – if I lived in the Bay area, I’d be getting this once a week, without fail.

SFO Day 2: Roasted Potatoes with Sea Salt from Roli Roti at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market

After eating, I moved inside to check out the stores there – I didn’t get to explore as much as I liked, since I had to get back to the hotel, but this is a must-stop for my next trip.

SFO Day 2: Inside the Ferry Market Building

Especially this mushroom store, that had varieties that I have never even heard of or have seen before.

SFO Day 2: Mushrooms from Far West Funghi

Loaded down with bags, I headed back to the hotel. Still wish I could have spent the whole day there, but tourists were starting to pile in, and it got a bit claustrophobic.

Next up – the Tasting Pavilion.