Tag Archives: foodie

This DIY Trick Can Suck It

30 Jun
Make your own powdered sugar!

What do you think? Can we make this work?

A few weeks ago, I had a little baking crisis. We were having people over to celebrate a friend’s birthday, and in the middle of making the cake (THE CAKE), I realized I didn’t have enough powdered sugar to make all of the frosting we’d need for it.

On top of this, it was a holiday weekend and the stores were full, and I’d pretty much promised the Boy, No, we really aren’t going to need to go to the store to pick up anything else. I’ve got it all under control.

Ha!

At the point I realized I needed more powdered sugar, the Boy asked, “Do you want me to go to the store and get some more?”

“Well, I don’t….no, it’ll be fine….we’ll just go with–wait! I can make some!”

Now, I’d read about making your own powdered sugar. It saves you so much money! It’s so quick to make! Why would anyone in their right mind buy powdered sugar when you can do it yourself?!

“Are you sure?” he asked.

“Yes! It’s supposed to be easy!” And I scuttled around the kitchen to make this flash of genius happen.

The recipes I found do vary (some add corn starch to prevent clumping), but basically, you put a cup of regular sugar into a blender and blend it until it’s the fine consistency of powdered sugar. This is supposed to take all of 30 seconds. Here’s how it went down for me:

Blender - circa late 1990s. It still works!

Here’s the blender. This blender is likely at least 20 years old. We don’t use it much.

Blender -- Yes, you need to see this angle too!

In case you didn’t know, here’s the inside of a blender. I just thought I’d show you.

We're gonna make our own powdered sugar! This is gonna be great!

Put on your imagination caps here, readers. Pretend that I’m pouring some Sugar in the Raw into the blender. I forgot to document the entire process for you, as I was in kind of a rush that day, but as successful cooking blogs show, more pictures are necessary to guide your readers through every step of the process.

If you’re ready to say, “Jill! Sugar in the Raw?! That’s not going to work–the granules are too big!” I’d like to respond that according to the package, this Sugar in the Raw was “great for baking.” Why, then, wouldn’t it be just as great for making powdered sugar?

Not-so-powdered sugar

This is what it looked like when it was done. You’d think it’s fine, but then you taste-test it….

Not-so-powdered sugar is not going to make tasty frosting.

….and you discover that it’s really gritty and is nothing like the consistency of powdered sugar. It’s close though. So you put it back in the blender and keep blending until either your ears give out or you start to smell a smoking blender motor.

And yet, it doesn’t get finer.

Will this mock me from the pantry?

At some point, you say, “Fuck it! I’m done with this!” and you slap a lid onto the container of semi-powdered sugar and throw it into a cabinet because you just can’t bear to throw it out yet. It can either sit in the pantry and mock you, or perhaps on a different day, you’ll finish off the project.

At the first sign of swearing, the Boy hears his cue that it’s time to go to the store. In no time, he’s back with your true friend:

Real powdered sugar!

 

Which makes excellent frosting. And costs $1.89, which is close to what you’ve just spent on regular sugar, electricity to make the blender run, and soap and water to clean it. Plus I have enough leftover to use on another recipe.

This isn’t a DIY trick, my friends, it’s DIY trickery. Don’t believe the hype.

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Postcard from Cleveland

22 Sep

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Hello Readers!

Somehow summer has almost completely passed, and although I’ve thought about you a lot over the last few months, I really haven’t done my part to keep up. Time to get back on track though, so I’ll start with some of my summer travels that caused disruption in my routine.

In August I went to Cleveland to officiate the first WFTDA D2 Playoff of the season, but I’m writing to you not to talk about the tournament (fun) or the officiating (which I thought went really well), but to  mention how smitten I am with Cleveland.

I’ve visited a few Rust Belt cities over the last few years, and I’m thrilled that many of them are experiencing a renaissance, with downtowns going through revitalization, people moving back in and interesting places opening up. You can feel a buzz of optimism, and it’s catchy enough to make me want to move there (Buffalo, I’m looking at you too).

If I had to move to Cleveland, I’d like to be able to live where I could regularly shop at the store pictured here. Oh, you thought it was the interior dome of a museum or something? No. It’s a grocery store. All right, Heinen’s didn’t build it that way, but they did keep The Cleveland Trust Company  building that is their downtown location pretty much intact from its good old days as a bank.

Heinen’s is on the fancier side in terms of grocery stores. They stock a couple of flavors of Polar, which is nice because you don’t always see Polar outside the Seltzer Belt (New England). They also have Noosa yoghurt, which you know is fancy because “yogurt” is spelled with an “h” (you should look for it in your local stores though–it’s totally delicious). Other froo-froo items include the parmesan-stuffed dates and some fancy tortilla chips that probably didn’t contain a lick of corn that I bought to fulfill my snacking needs for the weekend.

The best part about Heinen’s is its prepared food section (well, maybe the upstairs beer and wine tasting is better, but since I can’t drink and officiate, I didn’t even go up there). And here’s a tip: If you want a salad, skip the pay-by-the-ounce salad bar, and go to the global grill counter. This is where you can get things like meat and rice in a bowl or a themed salad OR you can make your own bowl.

I was in the mood for a big salad and thought about the salad bar, but I knew that with what foods I wanted, I’d quickly have a $15 salad on my hands and would have to hold back my tears at the cash register while I forked over the money and told myself I’d better be licking the plastic container clean.

Then I saw the bowl station had prepared salads, so I sauntered over there to get a Mediterranean salad, which would have fit the bill. Then I noticed that you could build your own, and they had maybe 30 different toppings, which was pretty much like the salad bar, except minus the cottage cheese, which I don’t eat anyway.

So I ordered a build-your-own salad, and the employee asked me what I wanted on it. I said, “Everything.”

“Everything?”

I scanned the rows of ingredients. “Well, maybe just two of the three coleslaws…and we can skip the kimchi. And I guess I’ll do just one kind of cheese.”

Raised eyebrows. “All right.”

Best damn salad ever. You can totally mix salsa and two kinds of coleslaw with spinach and peppers and feta and have a delicious concoction called “lunch.”

I went back to Heinen’s the next day and had the same thing, different dressing. Again, fantastic and joy-inducing, and I’m not sure if that’s because the food was good, the employees were super friendly or if shopping in such a beautiful building made the difference. I just know that it’s making a difference in a city–that still has a long way to go to get back to its glory days but is definitely showing a lot of signs of life. I’ll take that and look forward to the next time I go to Cleveland.

Now, if we could all work to get Gary back on track….

Winning at Lammington Roulette

4 Jun

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Back to Australia, where we’re on our last day on the road, and I still haven’t found a proper cream-filled Lammington. After leaving Buchan, we stopped for an excellent breakfast in Bruthen. I had high hopes for the small town’s bakery, but it didn’t even have Lammingtons. Onward.

We kept driving toward Melbourne and while going through the much larger town of Sale, I saw a bakery and we stopped. You know how you go to Europe and try to pronounce the name of something, and they have that way of correcting you where their tone of voice implies, “You ugly American. Our vowel pronunciation is much more civilized than your nasally twang. Always, always are our ‘a’s’ pronounced ‘ah”? It now doesn’t really matter where I travel, I automatically assume that if I’m outside of the United States and Canada, an ‘a’ is always pronounced ‘ah.’ Hence in Sale, I called it “Sah-lay.” Susy immediately corrected me. “It’s Say-el.” Gah! I’m showing not just my ugly American, I’m pulling out my ugly, pretentious American!

Anyway, Sale is where we hit the jackpot. They had Lammingtons! They had cream Lammingtons! They had cream Lammingtons in both chocolate and strawberry coating! JACKPOT! I got one of each–even though they were huge, I couldn’t resist–and back into the car we went. I scarfed down one of them throughout the rest of the journey and saved the other for breakfast the next day.

Both were fantastic–and they had jam in them as well! Cream and jam Lammingtons? BONUS JACKPOT! While they were completely delicious, I almost had to agree with Kill C.’s sentiment that, “The best part about finding cream Lammingtons is that I don’t have to eat anymore Lammingtons.” Until one of our clinic students found out we liked them and made a batch for us that night. Homemade, they were even better because the frosting was spread really thickly. Man, I can still taste those now. It’s a good thing I don’t have a recipe (yet) or that America hasn’t heard about this treat–we’re hip to the cupcake, whoopie pie and donut now. Lammingtons could be just around the food trend corner!

Bakery Lamington Roulette

8 May

An aside from the travelogue to fill you in on the challenge that Kill C. and I are embarking on: Find the best lamington.

The lamington is a square of spongecake dipped in chocolate and coated in coconut. The better ones are filled with jam or cream. I know this, yet on our first trip to a grocery store, I purchased a six-pack of grocery lamingtons, much to the horror of the NSOs at our first clinic. They kindly informed us that grocery lamingtons are far inferior to bakery lamingtons and that jam and/or cream-filled laminations are far superior to the plain lamington.

We’ve yet to find a filled lamington, though it’s not for lack of trying. Almost every stop we make, if fresh lamingtons are available, one or both of us are trying. It’s quickly become a game of roulette–take a bite and see if you’ve hit the jackpot.

Oh, sure, at a bakery I could ask. And we could purchase a tray of grocery-bought jam-filled lamingtons (and maybe Kill C. did), but what’s the fun in that? Besides, a bit of really good sponge cake is hard to turn down, especially when laced with chocolate and coconut. I suppose I could claim that I want to learn how to make them at home, so I’m, um, doing research. This is partially true–I wouldn’t mind learning how to make them, but after the amount I’m eating, whether or I not should is the better question.

We’re a few days in and still haven’t won. We’ll keep trying though. Someday we have to win, no?

Do Without This

20 Feb

Yesterday in my “40 Bags in 40 Days” Challenge, I went through the refrigerator, found this container of bean dip, and instantly thought, Oh yeah, I meant to blog about this stuff. The container’s been in my house since approximately the Super Bowl, so not that long, but heaven forbid it hang around in there much longer.

I got this from Market Basket, a grocery store that has kind of a cult following around these parts. Perhaps you heard of it, since last year’s ownership dispute made the news outside of New England. It’s cheap. Like, I got two huge boxes of cereal AND four cereal bowls for $4.75 cheap. I don’t know how they do it, but they do, which means the stores are usually crowded (I will not do major shopping there on a weekend….though actually, I really need to learn the senior citizen bus schedule. Those mornings are almost worse). Beyond being cheap, they usually carry some things I haven’t seen before, like said bean dip.

I love a good new food product, and since it was Super Bowl weekend, I thought a bean dip might be nice. I mean, look at it:

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It’s a bean dip for Beantown! If anybody can make a good bean dip, you’d think a Bostonian could, right? Unfortunately, not this company. Take a look:

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Now, if you look at the ingredient list, kidney beans are the first ingredient, followed by mayonnaise. That means there’s more kidney beans than anything else in the dip. I don’t know how they calculate those ratios. Is it 2 cups of beans to 1 cup of mayo? And then perhaps the beans are pureed within an inch of their life so that there’ maybe 1/3 cup bean puree to 1 cup of mayo? Because that’s what this tasted like. Mayonnaise with a pinch of beans and cucumbers, a few dashes of spices and some vinegar to thin it out and make it dippy. I had a couple of tastes–the extra ones because I couldn’t really believe it was that disgusting. Then I put it back in the fridge.

Yesterday, when I dumped it down the garbage disposal, I saw a bunch of larger hunks of beans at the bottom of the container, and I wondered if they’d settled and if that was where the bean flavor was. And if so, then it wasn’t quite “ready to serve,” was it? “Stir and serve” would be a better directive. Not that I tried it again–I shuddered just remembering how bad it tasted the first time. I’m sure a couple of extra weeks in the fridge did nothing to improve its flavor.

I will say I’m now kind of interested in finding a good bean dip, so I’m on the hunt. If you’ve got leads or good recipes, let me know.

Pancakes + Paczkis = A Fat Tuesday Indeed

18 Feb

The success of a party can usually be figured out by the mess you have to deal with the next day. Yes, we filled up the garbage can. Yes, we’ve already put a load of dishes in the dishwasher. However, these remnants are what I’m cleaning up today:

The bottle of fish oil and the Japanese picture dictionary did play a role in the festivities last night, believe it or not. Our group has apparently hit the age where “vitamin chat” is an important topic of conversation. One guest started talking about how she used to take fish oil and saw great results, though she’d stopped taking it. That, of course, meant a beeline to the cabinet to pull out the fish oil and try to foist it on people. We needed the book to show some important point–or perhaps it just got to the point in the night where it’s time to pull out books for show and tell purposes. You know what it’s like, right?

You foodies, though, may really only care how the food turned out. Well, the mess in the kitchen is mainly due to me starting prep late and throwing things together quickly. I did not use a sieve when making British pancakes, nor did I let the flour “get a good airing.” I threw ingredients in a bowl, mixed them together, then realized that the recipe really needed to be doubled, so I threw another batch into the same bowl, “well in the centre” and “adding milk gradually” be damned. An actual European who knows a little something about making crepes was on pan duty, so they turned out all right. I’m sure that if I’d followed the recipe to the T, the pancakes’ texture might have been slightly different, but nobody complained–perhaps because it’s been a year since we’ve all had them. It’s all about the fillings anyway, and we had some lovely beef with raisins, a creamy mushroom, fruit, Nutella, lemon juice, powdered sugar, and multiple varieties of jam. Nothing to complain about!

Next on the docket was buttermilk pancakes, which was on the menu for the pickier eaters in our group. The Boy has a really good dairy-free pancake recipe that calls for orange juice, but I went with straight buttermilk, because I thought the slight orange flavor those cakes acquire might have not played well on a picky eater’s palate. Did I make the right call there? At any rate, the batter was fine, but since I’m not that practiced with cooking pancakes, they got a little scorched. To make up for it, we also cooked a couple of packages of bacon, which cures all cooking issues.

Our last pancake was okonomiyaki, cooked up by our Japanese friend. I haven’t had this dish in a while, and it was so good! Light, fluffy eggs, onions and cabbage, sauce, perhaps some mystery ingredients (don’t ask, just eat). Delicious!

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The hard thing about three types of pancakes is that you need to have room for dessert, and as it was FYOP (Fill Your Own Paczki) night, that stomach space was essential.

Dude, can I just say that Jenny Jones has a good recipe? Sure, I fried them (she bakes), and I didn’t do the final steps to coat them in sugar because I’m used to a dusting of powdered sugar. They’re on the small side because I don’t have a proper cutter and was cutting them out with a 1/2-cup measure, but the German in our group loved the fact that they were the proper size for the German version of a Fat Tuesday donut. By next year I may have to acquire some sort of pastry syringe [as used in the latest episode of “The Great British Baking Show,” which coincidentally also feature donuts this week!] so we can do some proper injection. Me? I just cut the whole thing in half, to get in as much filling as possible.

So there you have it. I pulled off Pancake Day without being British…and without a Brit there for guidance, as ours was sick. A bunch of cooks in the kitchen made it happen, and a bunch of happy guests made for a nice jolt to the week–and I’m sure a jolt to my waistline. On to the austerity of Lent!

Ingredients Beget Ingredients

10 Feb

I’ve been steadily refilling my friends’ food subscription jars this winter, a project which I’m having a lot of fun with–and noticing a big issue.

One reason I started the project was to go through what I have and see if I need to hang onto it. I have a bunch of cookbooks I don’t use often. I have a big binder full of recipes I keep meaning to try. I have cupboards full of ingredients I should probably use.

I could do all of these on my own, without needing to fill a bunch of jars at random intervals, but I’m finding the subscription helps. The Boy and I don’t need to have a dozen cupcakes on hand. Nor do we necessarily need a quart of BBQ sauce that will spoil more quickly than the stuff you buy in the store. But if I share those with others–which I can’t really do effectively in a home office situation–I still get to see if the recipe’s a keeper, and I (hopefully) don’t consume as much. Having friends constantly request refills means that I’m forced to make sure I keep at my project to make sure I go through my cookbooks and binders, some of which have been full of Post-It flags for a good five years.

One thing I’d hoped to be able to do with the project is use up ingredients that are lingering on my shelves. However, sometimes it turns out that I have to get more random ingredients in order to use the first ones. Case in point: peach schnapps. We acquired a bottle in order to provide fuzzy navels for a 1980’s party, and now we have a lot of peach schnapps sitting around the house. Where to use it? How about a lovely recipe for fuzzy navel cupcakes, courtesy of one of my favorite cookbooks, Booze Cakes? Perfect, right?

Well, to a point. The recipe calls for orange marmalade and peach preserves, neither of which I had on hand–nor can I remember the last time I’ve ever purchased them–if I’ve ever purchased them in my lifetime. The Boy won’t eat them. I’m not big on eating a ton of jellied products, so now what? Yep, gotta find recipes that use orange marmalade and/or peach preserves. Bonus if they also use peach schnapps, because, yep, we’ve still got a fair amount of that. I’d start drinking a ton of fuzzy navels, but I’m busy consuming cosmopolitans because we have a 64 oz. bottle of cranberry juice that we also bought for said 80’s party. And we have a ton of vodka on hand. Did you know that a good cosmo only uses 1 oz. of cranberry juice at a time? I’ll be drinking cosmos until that stuff goes bad, and I bet I’ll still have to dump half the bottle. I am, however, whipping right through the vodka and orange liqueur, for what that’s worth.

I suppose I should start tracking all of the random ingredients I buy for said recipes. At the end of the year, I can see what I end up throwing away or find lurking in the back of the cupboard and/or refrigerator. Or, maybe I’ll be successful and use up everything–which might be another fun challenge in and of itself.

Looking for a Lovely Bake

20 Jan

On the Internet, cooking and baking blogs seem to lean toward either extreme:

I am a fabulous home cook, and let me show you every perfect step along the way

OR

Look how dumb I am, and my recipe hilariously didn’t turn out anything like it was supposed to

I’m not opposed to either version. Cooking can be difficult, and I too look to plenty of amateur cooks to help me get dinner on the table on a regular basis. I also take comfort in the food fails, because, well, not everything goes well on the first attempt, and it’s good to be able to look away from the perfect amateurs and take solace in those who’ve also made their kitchens explode.

Perhaps that’s why I love “The Great British Bake-Off (or “Baking Show,” as it’s called in the US). I’m watching the desserts episode as I write this (a friend is imploring me to catch up), and because these amateur bakers get challenges thrown at them that come with minimal instruction (Make this Mary Berry recipe to the T. Oh, and the recipe doesn’t give you much to go on. See you in two hours. Tootle-Loo!), you get contestants who say–and I quote–“How the hell are you supposed to cut that horizontally?” You get to hold your breath along with the contestants to see if their puddings self-sauce. You get to see several different interpretations of one recipe and see where it goes right and wrong. And you get to watch contestants make a cake, only to realize they seriously fucked up mixing it, and they throw it into the trash and start all over.

This is kind of how I felt this weekend, when I tried making Norman’s Farthing Biscuits. On the biscuit show, they sounded easy–just flour, butter and lard. Nothing to it!

Right. I’ve never worked with lard before, so I’m not sure what to expect.

The recipe is a little lacking in that it doesn’t tell you how much time the recipe should take, other than baking time. Knowing how long various steps should take would be helpful in preventing the internal freak-out of wondering when the hell the ingredients would crumb together, like so:

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And then you stir in enough water to form a dough and form it into a ball. Or four.


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I somehow cobbled these together in one ball and chilled it according to the recipe. Then you have to roll it out “slightly thinner than the thickness of a pound coin” and stamp out round crackers. Several issues with this. I present Exhibit 1:

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The cobbled together dough crumbled and made tons of scraps. You’re supposed to roll out the dough, cut the biscuits, then combine all the scraps together and repeat. Heh! I rolled, cut, then piled up the scraps until I finally tossed them out. Also notice the star-shaped cookie cutter. Yep, I realized I don’t have a round cutter, so star shapes it was (which, to be honest, turned out to be a cool mistake).

Now for Exhibit 2:

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This picture is post-bake, but one of these has be be slightly thicker than a pound coin. Apparently it’s been a while since I’ve been to the UK because I don’t seem to have a decent memory of the pound’s size. I should go back for….research….yeah….

The final product involves poking a bunch of holes in the dough and baking them.

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On the whole, these turned out OK. If you’re like me, you can serve them with butter or cheeses, and while you’re eating them, you remember that you don’t really like the bland taste of Carr’s Table Water Crackers, which are pretty damn similar. You wonder why you ever decided that Norman’s were going to change your mind–particularly the thicker ones–and you close the book on ever making that recipe again.

My Official Celebration of Food Begins

14 Jan

tempura

Happy Belated National Tempura Day! How did you celebrate? Did you make your tempura, or did you buy it?

Wait–you missed National Tempura Day?! How is that possible? Everybody celebrates it! You didn’t get my card? Oh, um, oops. Guess that got lost in the mail.

Well, maybe not. During the day-after-Christmas-family-trip-to-the-bookstore, I decided to pick up Steff Deschenes‘ book Eat the Year, which, based on her Almanac of Eats blog, lists food holidays for every day of the year–including leap year, which happens to be National Surf & Turf Day. I’m guessing it probably takes a good 4 years to save up for the surf and the turf at a decent restaurant and/or forget how difficult it was to cook it all at once the last time you made it.

Anyway, I bought the book not just because it’s winter in New England and I’m looking for excuses to get the house warm by turning on the oven, but because I’d like to cook a little bit more creatively and I thought this book would be a little inspirational. Besides, I like the “it’s this National Food Day” because that’s an excuse to eat. Now I can plan my excuses. That’s a win all around.

I’m not going to do one of those projects where you make everything in the book and/or celebrate every food day possible in a year. I’m not touching National Caviar Day, and I’m not sure anyone should have a party to celebrate National Eat Beans Day. Also, some days have multiple holidays–for example, August 8 is both National Zucchini Day and National Frozen Custard Day. What pressure!

That said, January 7 was National Tempura Day. I celebrated a couple of days early when I went out for Japanese food with some friends, and then I celebrated again last night when we ordered Chinese food. Good stuff! Yes, I could have made it, and it’s actually not terribly difficult–I do have a tempura batter recipe–but like anything, there are good versions and bad versions. Last time I made tempura, I liked it but it was a bit heavy on the batter. This holiday, I took the opportunity to test a couple other versions and see where I can improve. I might need to test some more though. And practice. Yeah, practice. A lot. Next year, I’ll be ready for it. Now that you’re aware, maybe you will be too.

If you plan to celebrate any food holidays, drop me a line. Perhaps we can celebrate together. Also, stay tuned to this site, as I’ll probably post about my food celebrations from time to time.

Incidentally, if you’re reading this today, it’s National Hot Pastrami Sandwich Day. I’ve got Chinese leftovers so I won’t be celebrating, but I do give you an honorary tip of the sandwich if you are.

Bonus Postcard from Pittsburgh

23 Oct
pierogi grilled cheese

The Pittsburgh grilled cheese from Hemingway’s, minus the kraut.

We were only in Pittsburgh for a  couple of days, so I didn’t get a chance to verify this, but Pittsburgh does not exactly scream “foodie city” to me. From my experience, Pittsburgh is a food town, an eating town (and yes, I know it’s a city, but somehow “town” seems kind of an appropriate descriptor). It’s a town that says, “I need to forge some steel and build a bridge! I need FOOD! SUSTENANCE!”

And in that sense, it totally delivered. From the few meals I ate in Pittsburgh, I was astounded at the amount of stuff in sandwiches. Yes, I know that by definition, a sandwich has stuff in it. That is the nature of two slices of bread with fillings. But in Pittsburgh, there was stuff in my sandwich that I normally would’ve expected to get on the side. For example, I didn’t have to choose whether I wanted pierogis or grilled cheese. I could get pierogis in my grilled cheese.

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Primanti Bros. Pitts-burgher cheese steak

Also take the legendary Primanti Bros., which serves sandwiches filled with meat, fries and cole slaw on two pieces of waxed paper. Who needs sides, when you could shovel your meal into your entire mouth in a few bites and get back to the mill (or, as Primanti notes, back to truckin’)?

This type of food may not be popular to write about. It doesn’t come with reductions, and nothing is deconstructed, but it certainly had a quality to it that made you understand the city a little better. Eating like this made me feel more connected to the city, to its past — and in the case of Church Brew Works’ pierogi pizza I also ate (and most of which I carted home on a nine-hour drive because that deliciousness couldn’t go to waste)– of what Pittsburgh hopes to be.

Stories through food. Pittsburgh, yours is pretty interesting.

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