Gretchen McKay

Wedding soup is a marriage made in heaven

LOWELLVILLE, Ohio — Nancy Grapevine and her sister, Marilee Pilkington, have been making their mother’s wedding soup for longer than they can remember. Like any self-respecting Italian cooks, they think it’s the best. Award-winning, even, which is why on a recent Saturday, they braved a wicked winter blast that dumped several inches of snow on this tiny village along the Mahoning River to enter a wedding soup cook-off.

The starter that’s a staple at so many red sauce Italian-American restaurants is the highlight of a “Bigga Day” party that kicks off the Mt. Carmel Society’s annual Italian festival each July. So when members of the Italian men’s club were trying to come up with a new fundraiser last October, they decided: why not host a contest to determine who does it the best?

More than a third of the town’s population traces its roots to the Mezzogiorno region of southern Italy. Asking people to pit their families’ recipes against one another, said club president Dave Gagliano, who lives just over the Pennsylvania border in Hillsville, Lawrence County, would keep the tradition of Italian foods going.

That, “and we knew it would be a hit”  for the society founded in 1895 by Pietro Pirone as a homeless shelter for Italian immigrants. Especially since there was just one rule: Contestants each had to bring at least three gallons of soup to the club for the blind tasting.

All 20 spots were snapped up within three days, and the club also sold all 200 of its $20 tickets to the event, which included pizza,  hors d’oeuvres and a silent auction in addition to a tasting spoon and ballot.

Ms. Grapevine and her sister carried in five gallons of the soup recipe their mother, Mary Perry, used to feed to New Castle fireworks master Louis Zambelli  and his workers a half-century ago. They spent the entire day simmering and straining the broth, to which they added chopped chicken, miniature beef meatballs, escarole and the tiny homemade dough balls their mom always referred to as “hickies.”


What makes the soup so incredibly delicious, said Ms. Grapevine, is that they follow their mom’s golden rule of never putting garlic in the meatballs, and cooking them just so.

“You want your teeth just to sink into them,” she said.

The soup was good enough for the sisters to be voted runners-up in the popular vote. But it was  Ed Snitzer, a plumbing contractor who also runs an Italian food trailer called Jaam Concession, who took home the judges’ trophy along with $500.

The Youngstown, Ohio native attributed his win to his soup’s quarter-inch-square croutons, which are handmade with grated pecorino. “Pasta?” he said when asked about his competitors’ versions. “True Italian wedding soup doesn’t have it!”

A peasant dish born of necessity

Pittsburgh likes to call claim to wedding soup because of the many generations of Italians who’ve made it a must-have dish at restaurants as diverse as Big Jim’s in lower Greenfield, Delallo’s Fort Couch Cafe in Bethel Park. La Gondola Pizzeria in Market Square and Eat’n Park. The truth is, the humble concoction of broth with greens and meatballs is equally popular in the parts of Ohio with large Italian populations, such as Youngstown and Cleveland.

It’s thought to have originated in Naples in the 15th century,  before the tomato was introduced into Italian cuisine, though some argue it was Spanish cooks who brought a similar stew called olla podrida there a century earlier from Toledo and other parts of central Spain.

In Italy, says food historian and Italian food authority Francine Segan, the soup is traditionally eaten at Christmas and Easter because it’s hearty and makes an easy extra course. Where you won’t find it is at weddings. That’s because its original name in Italian, minestra maritata, doesn’t have anything to do with a bride or groom. It actually translates to “married soup” or “wedded soup.”  The green vegetables and meat  “si sposa bene” — they go really well together.

While today the dish is typically made with escarole or swiss chard, in olden days it probably featured puntarelle, a type of Catalonian chicory, said Ms. Segan; borage leaves also would have been essential in the greens mix.  There definitely would have been the tiny meatballs made from different cuts of meat that are so common in Italy, and perhaps also sausage and the chicken that would have cooked off the bone while making the slow-simmered broth.

And it almost always had tiny dumpling-like homemade pasta called Cazzetti d’angelo, which roughly translates to the private parts of male angels.

Because it was a peasant food created from scraps and leftovers, it’s almost impossible to find two recipes that are alike, said Viviana Altieri, founder and executive director of Istituto Mondo Italiano in Regent Square. That’s especially true if you’re comparing American versions to those in Italy; Italians grow other types of leafy vegetables and have cuts of meat that aren’t available in the U.S.

In a typical red sauce restaurant here in the U.S., she says, you would normally see it with tiny meatballs floating in a bowl surrounded by acini di pepe pasta. Back home in Italy, “you would make the broth with small pork spare ribs, beef shank, at times little pieces of prosciutto.”

Italian chef Lidia Bastianich  in “Lidia’s Mastering The Art of Italian Cuisine” crafts meatballs from sweet Italian sausage, while Giada Laurentiis opts for a mixture of pork and beef.  Matty Matheson, star of Viceland’s “It’s Suppertime!” bucks tradition completely by eschewing greens and adding golf-sized meatballs to the soup. He also trades the commonplace orzo, pastina or acini di pepe for a savory “lace” made by whisking a mixture of egg, Romano cheese and fresh bread crumbs into the hot broth.

At Big Jim’s, the preferred green is escarole, and the popular homemade soup includes chunks of chicken along with beef meatballs and sliced carrot — an addition that would surely drive Ms. Grapevine mad.

While the Lowellville native seasons the broth with the veggie, it’s always strained out before adding the greens and pasta. “There is no orange in the Italian flag,” she said.

A perfect assimilation of flavors and textures

Wedding soup is a forgiving soup in that any combination of meats and vegetables creates a warm bowl of Italian comfort. But there are some rules, says chef Michael Alberini, who owns an upscale Italian restaurant in Youngstown and helped judge Mt. Carmel Society’s cook-off.

Today’s home cook might not have the time or patience to make the old-style wedding soup he grew up with, and which took all day to cook using a variety of meats, homemade broth, pastina and a garden of vegetables including escarole. But with many quality boxed broths available on store shelves, even quick versions can create beautiful flavors and elicit joy, he says, if you follow four simple tips.

For starters, go easy on the salt. This is especially true if you’re using a boxed broth instead of making it from scratch. Don’t blindly add it without first tasting, even if the recipe calls for it.

Be sure to skim the fat off the soup before you serve it. What makes wedding soup taste so rich is the oil content from all the proteins simmering over a long period of time. If you don’t skim it off as it rises to the top, it will act as a barrier to the wonderful extracted flavors you’ve been cooking all day.  “If you don’t get rid of it, it really blocks the flavor profile,” he says.

Don’t go crazy with the seasonings. Spicy meatballs will overpower the nuanced flavor of the soup. It’s the broth that should be enhancing the meatballs, not visa versa.

Take it slow. As Americans, we’re used to instant gratification, says Mr. Alberini. So we tend to use higher heat when cooking to rush the process. But that disallows the proteins  in wedding soup to break down into a tender product. And the last thing you want when you’re eating soup is to have to work through a chewy piece of chicken or a dry meatball.

“You can’t rush the flavor of love,” he says.

And if you don’t cook? No worries. General Mills, makers of Progresso’s line of premium soups, has a winner with its canned wedding soup  in Western Pennsylvania. Exact sales are proprietary, of course, “but I can confirm that people in Pittsburgh are definitely eating more of Progresso’s Italian Wedding Soup than people in other parts of the country,”  spokesman Mike Siemienas wrote in an email. He add, “There is no doubt that people in Pittsburgh love it .”

Gretchen McKay:, 412-263-1419 or on Twitter @gtmckay.

Image DescriptionWedding soup is a popular starter at Pittsburgh’s red sauce Italian-American restaurants. Its original name in Italian, minestra maritata, has nothing to do with brides or grooms. It translates to “married soup,” and refers to the fact that greens and meat go really well together.(Gretchen McKay/Post-Gazette)

Italian Wedding Soup

PG tested

Feel free to substitute or your favorite green for the escarole in this recipe. 

For the meatballs

½ pound beef, ¼ pound each ground veal and pork,

2 tablespoons fresh parsley

¼ cup grated Romano cheese

¼ teaspoon salt

⅛ teaspoon pepper

1 egg, slightly beaten

2 slices white bread soaked in about ¼ cup milk

For the broth

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium yellow onion, diced

2 stalks celery, diced

2 large carrots, diced

12 cups high-quality chicken broth (do not use low-sodium)

½ head escarole, shredded  or chopped

1 bay leaf

For soup

2 cups shredded, roasted chicken 

1 cup pastina or acini di pepe,, cooked according to package instructions

Parmesan cheese, for serving

Make meatballs. Place all ingredients except bread in a large bowl. Squeeze milk from bread and break apart. Add to the bowl and mix until ingredients are thoroughly combined. Form into grape-sized meatballs, and set aside while you make broth.

In a large soup pot or Dutch oven over medium heat, heat the olive oil. Add the onions, carrots, and celery and cook, stirring frequently, until the vegetables are softened, about 8 minutes. Add the chicken broth, escarole and bay leaf, and season with  salt and pepper.

When the soup comes to a boil, add the prepared meatballs and chicken. Lower to a simmer and cook with the lid on for 30 minutes.Taste for seasoning and adjust, then cooked pasta and cook just until heated through..

Remove and discard the bay leaf before serving. Serve hot with Parmesan cheese at the table.

Makes 8 to 10 servings.

— Gretchen McKay


Simple, easy tips for rolling out Christmas cut-outs

Dough for a pie crust isn’t the only mixture of flour, sugar and fat that gives home cooks pause during the holiday season.

Cut-out cookie dough also can be a source of baking anxiety, especially when you’re pressed for time and have tiny helpers who want to be part of the action.

If you add too much flour during the rolling process, the sugar cookies will turn out tough and dry instead of light and crisp. And if you are rushed and don’t chill it, the dough will stick to the rolling pin in a maddening mess.

But all this dough talk doesn’t have to make you go crazy. To master the art of making cookie dough, see the video on Additionally, here are some tips and tricks on how to roll out the perfect cut-outs.

• Be sure to sift your flour (it will remove any lumps), and use a light hand when spooning it into the measuring cup. If you don’t have a sifter, a fine-mesh strainer also works well.

• Make sure the butter is at room temperature (pliable, without being soft and greasy), or it won’t cream properly with the sugar.

• Measure ingredients carefully, especially baking soda, too much of which will increase browning.

• When mixing wet ingredients, be sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl at least once to make sure everything is incorporated.

• Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients slowly, on low speed, so there are no flour “explosions.”

• Mix dough just until it comes together; there should still be a couple of streaks in the batter. It will be soft and crumbly.

• Wrap dough in cellophane and chill in refrigerator overnight, or at least 2 hours. It should be firm to the touch.

• If you’re worried about using too much flour, roll dough on a Silpat, or between two sheets of parchment. Make sure you roll evenly so cookies are the same thickness.

• Dip cookie cutters in flour so the edges don’t stick. Excess dough can be re-rolled up to two times.

• Place cookies far enough apart on the sheet so that they don’t bake into one another.

• Cool completely on a wire rack before decorating with icing.

Steve Mellon/Post-Gazette

Pittsburgh’s pie guy

Frank Ruzomberka of Shaler has been in the family-restaurant business going on six decades, and he’s always been a terrific chef. (He was American Culinary Federation’s Chef of the Year, Pittsburgh chapter, in 1979.) Yet some would argue he didn’t realize his true calling in life until he had a good 30 years of cooking under his belt.

Twenty or so years ago, he started making pie from scratch for Grant Bar, the tavern on Grant Street in Millvale that his parents, Matthew and Maria Ruzomberka, started in 1933. Talk about a great idea catching on.

The old-school neighborhood restaurant has always served pie and other desserts, of course. But in the early days, many of the fillings were made with prepared mixes. A dedicated pastry chef would have been an unaffordable luxury, and as a busy executive chef responsible for overseeing an entire menu and staff, “I just didn’t have the time,” says Mr. Ruzomberka, who was certified by the  American Academy of Chefs in 1981 and is largely self-taught.

While taking some courses at Community College of Allegheny County in his 50s, he changed his mind. Among all the “young kids” in a class that involved pie-making, “I was the best,” he says. So an idea sprang forth. Why not put his skill to use for customers?

Within three months, he’d perfected his recipes for a crispy lard/butter crust and a variety of fillings, and over the years, some have become legendary: apple, peach, pumpkin, banana, egg custard, chocolate and banana cream, among others.

If Pittsburgh had an official Pie Guy, it’d be Mr. Ruzomberka, who at age 81 still makes upwards of a dozen pies a day by hand in the kitchen in which he started his culinary education at age 18. He’s particularly proud of his best-selling coconut cream. Piled high with whipped topping and toasted coconut, it weighs in at a whopping 4½ pounds — but still tastes light as a feather.

“I like to make things that people want and like,” he says.

In Pittsburgh when it comes to dessert, that just happens to mean pie. And not just on Pi Day, which this year falls on Sat., March 14. (And what better way to commemorate the never-ending number 3.14159… than with a slice of your favorite?)

On a busy day, Mr. Ruzomberka will sell 24 slices of coconut cream pie alone; none are more than 24 hours old.

What makes them so delicious, he says, is the time and care he takes crafting them. He spends more than four hours a day on his creations, and only uses the freshest ingredients. If peaches aren’t in season, for example, don’t expect to see peach pie on the menu.

To say he has pie-making down to a science takes some of the magic out of it. It’s really more of an art, an expression of love. “I put my heart into every pie.”

His still-nimble fingers belie the arthritis and other health issues that have come with age. (He’s had three heart attacks, along with open-heart surgery.) It takes him less than a minute to transfer a disk of pastry dough from between two pieces of waxed paper into a metal pan, trim the excess, then pat and crimp it into a perfectly fluted crust. After pricking the dough with a fork, and before adding the filling, he swirls egg white on the unbaked crust with his fingers to prevent it from getting soggy.

“You can patch it up if you need to,” he says while he works, though it’s tough to imagine him making any mistakes: With thousands of pies to his credit, he has it down pat.

The empty pie shells are so perfect, in fact, that “everyone thinks I buy them this way,” he says with a chuckle.

In the past, he did everything himself. Now, longtime chef Joe Roethlein mixes and rolls out dough the night before so it’s ready to go when Mr. Ruzomberka arrives at around 7 a.m., six days a week. Make that seven, if there’s an event on Sunday.

All the while, he’s constantly in motion. While the milk is simmering to 180 degrees over a double boiler, for instance, he’s separating eggs into a bowl, whisking in sugar, melting chocolate and dissolving Knox gelatin in water to use as a thickener. Then it’s stir, stir, stir after the custard is cooked and strained and cooling on an ice bath.

A day when apple pie is on the menu? He can peel and slice 10 Golden Delicious for a pie, then assemble it in layers with cinnamon-sugar and a crumble topping, in four minutes flat.

“I could do it with my eyes closed, in my sleep,” he says.

Not that he would, because he’s too much of a perfectionist.

“Everything has to be to my standards,” he says.

It’s a work ethic that his parents’ nurtured early in their seven children. At age 6, he was cleaning spittoons and shining brass rails in the restaurant.

His creations are not for those who count calories. The crust is made using a 4-to-1 ratio of lard to butter, and each cream pie includes six egg yolks, ¾ cup sugar and 3 cups of milk (boiled precisely to 180 degrees). And don’t forget about that tall whipped topping.

With his 82nd birthday coming in May, no one could complain if the longtime chef decided to retire so he could spend more time perfecting his golf game. But in his mind, old age alone is not a recipe for retiring.

“I feel like I’m 60. I can’t wait to get here. I just love my work,” he says with a grin.

“When I can’t put the pies in the oven without spilling a drop — that’s when I’ll stop.”

Homeless citizens join with North Side ministry to run Pittsburgh Marathon



A former crack addict who used to sleep in abandoned houses, Monica Craft isn’t your typical runner. In fact, she walked a lot more than she jogged when she stepped onto the track at Schenley Oval Sportsplex at Schenley Park in Oakland last week for a mid-morning workout.

Clad in a corduroy jacket and cotton sweats, with her short strawberry-blond hair pulled back into a tight bun, the now-sober New Kensington native had a goal of 12 quick-paced laps for a total of 3 miles — something of a grind, considering she’s not a big one for exercise, but still 2½ miles short of what the 56-year-old will have to pull from her reserves in a few days.

On Sunday she will run the first leg of a Pittsburgh Marathon women’s relay team for L.I.V.I.N.G. Ministry, a North Side-based nonprofit dedicated to ministering to the homeless. She won’t be fast. But even if she is one of the last competitors to reach her exchange at Ridge Avenue and Merchant Street, she’ll consider her race a victory.

“It doesn’t matter about winning,” she said, noting that her recovery has included learning to live life on God’s terms. “It’s about doing.”

James Edmunds, who’ll run the second leg of the relay for the ministry’s men’s team, is a tad more competitive. A sprinter in high school who excelled in the 100-yard dash and 440-yard relay, he hopes to break eight minutes a mile as he runs through the West End to the Smithfield Street Bridge.

Not used to long distances, the 44-year-old said, “I’ve had to learn to slow that sprint down and pace myself” during training, which on a warm, sunny afternoon in late April included two hilly loops totalling 5 miles around Riverview Park. Joining him on the run was the ministry’s 30-year-old co-founder, Charles Chapman, and program director Joshua McKinley. Despite being years older, Mr. Edmunds left both of them in the dust.

Originally from Youngstown, Ohio, where his family still lives, he became homeless after losing his job at a candy factory last year. Most nights he was able to find refuge in a shelter, but not always: With just 75 emergency beds available for men in the Pittsburgh area (and another 100 or so for women), he occasionally had to sleep outside on a ramp beside a building — an experience he called “crazy.”

“But you have to do what you have to do to make it through,” he said, shaking his head.

After bouncing around from here to there, he ended up at Pleasant Valley Men’s Shelter in Manchester, where he connected with the L.I.V.I.N.G. Ministry missionaries who hold Bible studies and other activities there. Putting his faith (and future) in God, he entered the ministry’s intense, six-month Project L.I.F.E. discipleship program for the homeless. Agreeing to take part in the marathon relay, he said, is a way to give back to the community.

In addition to raising money, through, for the ministry as part of the marathon’s 2014 Run for a Reason charity program — their goal is $12,000 — he hopes to serve as an example to those who still are living on the streets.

Just as Jesus loves them, “I want to let them know we love them, that there are people who care,” he said. “I think we can make a great impact on those who are suffering.”

That, and to live in the moment. “I’m doing it for the excitement,” he said with a grin. “I want to hear the crowd.”

This is no small thing, because when you’re homeless, noted Mr. Chapman, you’re typically ashamed of it and don’t want to broadcast it to the world. That isolates you at a time when what you really need is to feel you’re part of something.

“So much of our ministry is just about paying attention,” he said. “In everything we do, we truly value and view the homeless as our friends.”

“It’s good to be part of something,” agreed Samone Oliveros, director of women’s outreach and Ms. Craft’s unofficial coach. “Not just God’s kingdom, but the big things people in the city do together.”

While those who know and understand L.I.V.I.N.G. Ministry’s experiential approach consider the relay a no-brainer, a more common response is one of confusion, Mr. Chapman said.

“We don’t run the marathon with the homeless because it’s good press or because we feel bad about their situation,” he continued. “We run the marathon because it’s fun and we love to do fun things with any and all of our friends.”

Raised in Baltimore, Mr. Chapman has been working with the homeless since the seventh grade, where on a mission trip to Washington, D.C., he dished up meals in a soup kitchen. For a while in his teens he wanted to be an engineer. But after another mission trip to Jamaica at age 16, he felt a calling to serve those who get overlooked in society.

A few months after enrolling at the University of Pittsburgh, where he studied social work on a full scholarship, he visited his first homeless shelter and realized his life’s mission. “People don’t see [the homeless] as people,” he said, “just as a situation or problem.”

Finding beds and jobs for the estimated 2,200 men and women who live on the streets or in shelters in the Pittsburgh area is important work. But the cycle of homelessness doesn’t stop just because there’s a roof over their heads and food on the table, Mr. Chapman said. In fact, he noted, sometimes housing makes things worse, because then the person is totally isolated.

What’s really needed to help people rise out of homelessness, he said, are relationships.

Being part of the mission’s marathon relay team provides those connections.

Ms. Craft and others on the team have been meeting every Tuesday with Ms. Oliveros for a walking club at Union Place Building at Allegheny Center Alliance Church. They talk the entire time they’re on the track. The men also have been training together when they can.

There are other benefits. Research has shown that even moderate aerobic activity can improve symptoms of depression and increase the likelihood of an addict staying sober. Also important, preparing for a race can help those who may have not made the best choices in life establish goals and achieve a sense of accomplishment.

As Ms. Craft noted during her workout, “I’m trying to be strong and a responsible person. I’m doing something different in life. I want to find my purpose.”

“People think the homeless are dirty, smelly drug addicts or derelicts,” said Mr. McKinley, the ministry’s 37-year-old director of discipleship. He’s running the last leg of the relay. “But they may just be people who have lost their way.”

L.I.V.I.N.G. Ministry cobbled together two relay teams last year, bought everyone shoes and set about fundraising. But it was so last-minute, no one officially trained. Staff weren’t even sure everyone would show up on race day. (To better their odds, they asked racers to sleep over and lined up volunteer back-up runners.) But sure enough, everyone was there at 5:30 a.m. that morning, ready to go. They managed to raise some $8,000 for the ministry.

One runner was so excited to get her medal, Mr. Chapman said, that she mailed it to her mom for Mother’s Day. “It was like, ‘Look! I did it. I finished something.’ ”

Ms. Craft expects she’ll feel that excitement, too, on Sunday.

“I’ve been through harder pain than this.”


26.2 Food: How to eat right while training

An occasional series on how to fuel for the Pittsburgh Marathon.

Most serious runners will stop at nothing in the race to maximize performance.

High-tech trainers that keep your feet happy while logging serious miles, the latest fitness watch or app that provides feedback in real-time, specially formulated goos and chews that promise to energize your body for hours — any edge you can get, you’ll take.

What it really boils down to, though, is healthy eating, before, during and after your workouts.

To do your best in an endurance event such as the UPMC Pittsburgh Marathon on May 4, you should be maintaining an appropriate nutrition plan not just the week or so before your race but throughout your training. And yes, that includes weekends, when diets easily can go the way of the devil.

One mistake some runners make going into a marathon-training program — and maybe the reason they decide to attempt the 26.2-mile race in the first place — is to use the race as a vehicle for weight loss, by fueling runs on a reduced-calorie diet. I mean, hasn’t it been drilled into our heads that the key to taking off extra pounds is to consume fewer calories than you burn?

I know that was my plan when I signed up this winter for my first full marathon: To shed that small but still irritating spare tire I’d been carrying around since the holidays.

Working with a nutrition coach provided by my Highmark insurance, I learned that might not be the best idea.

While the body recovers pretty easily after the 13.1 miles of a half marathon, it’s a different story with the grueling 17- to 22-mile workouts marathon training entails.

“It’s very damaging to the body,” my registered dietitian, Andrew Wade, told me. “Your muscles tear during those long runs.”

By restricting calories, you prevent muscles and other vital body systems from recovering or performing properly, he explained. Not only that, but also the muscle fatigue that comes from running farther than you are used to can linger, often for days. Deny your body the energy it needs during this tired state, and you’re at a higher risk for many of the overuse and impact injuries that can vex a runner.

Pig out whenever you feel like it as a reward for all that hard work, on the other hand — and God knows you’re famished after running for three-plus hours — and you can sap your energy while playing crazy with your digestion system. Especially if you fill up on refined, processed goodies instead of natural whole foods. Don’t know the difference? Think McDonald’s vs. grilled chicken and brown rice whipped up at home, or a handful of mixed nuts or a cup of yogurt with homemade granola instead of Oreos or a bag of potato chips.

One way to avoid this sabotage is to eat a small number of calories (primarily carbs) as soon as your stomach feels back to normal — say, a whole-wheat bagel with peanut butter or a smoothie made with fruit and yogurt. A glass of low-fat chocolate milk also will take the edge off. Then, when you’re ready to eat a “real” meal, you won’t be tempted to overdo it.

What’s a good way to stay on track the 231/2 other hours a day?

A meal plan that helps you break the day’s food into countable calories and into grams of fat, protein and carbohydrates can help organize and motivate runners who want to think more seriously about what they put in their mouths in the weeks leading up to a race.

For instance, a runner my age and size (don’t ask, because I ain’t telling) should be taking in between 1,800 and 2,000 calories per day, with an additional mostly-carb 400 calories split into the meals before and after a workout on easy training days (approximately 100 calories per 10 minutes of exercise). For long run days (more than 90 minutes), I get to add an additional 200 calories per hour of exercise.

I know. What an absolute pain to have to marry math with food. Even Mr. Wade acknowledged good nutrition is a “complex topic” that can be very difficult to navigate; it took more than a week of scribbling every last calorie down to get the hang of it, and that was with recipes that provided nutrition information. I’m sure food editor Bob Batz, who sits within earshot, has gotten pretty tired of me debating aloud the merits of quinoa vs. brown rice.

But once I got used to putting pen to paper, well, it really has made me more conscious of making healthful choices.

Especially since Mr. Wade stressed the plan he gave me was a “perfect world” list.

“Your main priority should be your pre- and post-exercise meals [mostly carbs with some protein] and your intra-exercise snacking,” he said. “The rest of the plan is just healthy lifestyle suggestions, and an idea of how many calories you need without exercise.”

In other words, don’t eat junk.

And if you go overboard at lunch or dinner, or mindlessly spoon in the Haagen-Daz while you’re watching TV? It’s OK to stray here or there with a few extra calories, so long as you make up for it by cutting back on future portions.

“It’s not cheating if it’s accounted for,” Mr. Wade reassured me, “as long as you’re eating good foods most of the time.”

Runners differ, of course, on energy sources. Tim Lyman, a running coach at PNC YMCA, Downtown, swears by a peanut butter-and-banana sandwich on whole-wheat before a long run and a whey protein shake after. But during workouts, he only recharges with Gatorade. As for the rest of his training diet, well, whatever.

“I’m pretty sure I ate an entire box of cereal since last night,” he told me one morning.

Then again, he’s 28, and has that long, lean physique that makes you think he could nosh on Big Macs 24/7 and still manage a sub-three-hour marathon, the lucky dog.

Me, I’ve had to learn to eat better in the morning (a glass of OJ provides a quick source of carbs) and work in an afternoon snack that doesn’t come from the vending machine. Along with thinking about portion control, I’ve also learned to identify foods I can eat easily while I’m running to keep my energy level where it needs to be at mile 15. Dried apricots, dry cereal and pretzels, to name just a few.

It’s a daunting journey, this marathon thing. But I’m learning it still can taste delicious, even if you’re wearing the muffin top instead of eating it.

Butternut squash oatmeal

Feel free to play around with the spices in this carb-rich, tummy-friendly breakfast dish from Nick Fischer, in-house dietitian for Dick’s Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon. He says, “It’s only oatmeal, so if you mess it up, start again.”

1/2 cup water

1/2 cup milk

1/2 cup rolled oats (instant are fine)

2 teaspoon brown sugar

1/4 teaspoon each cinnamon and ginger

1/4 to 1/2 cup pureed butternut squash

Add water and milk to a small pot and bring to a boil. When liquid is boiling, add remaining ingredients and stir until everything is evenly mixed and distributed. Simmer for 2 to 3 minutes or until the oatmeal is at the desired consistency. Stir often.

If cooking in a microwave, put water, milk and oats in microwave-safe bowl and cook on high (power level 10) for 2 minutes, or until desired consistency. Then add in the rest of the ingredients. The reason that we add the spices, sugar and pumpkin after cooking in the microwave is because you can’t stir while it is being cooked. Also, it is easier to stir the pumpkin into a hot liquid rather than a cold liquid.

Serves 1.

— Nick Fischer, Fischer Nutrition

Nutrition: 215 calories, 38 grams carbs, 10 grams protein, 3 grams fat, 6 grams fiber

Breakfast Smoothies, Three ways

Healthy, easy to make and oh-so-portable, smoothies are a terrific pre- or post-workout drink. For added protein, substitute Greek yogurt, or a scoop of vanilla whey-protein powder (available at health food stores). I swapped a little orange juice for the sugar. If you want to use fresh fruit, that’s fine — just add a handful of ice cubes.

1½ cups plain low-fat yogurt

1½ cups frozen strawberries and 1 sliced banana OR 3/4 cup frozen pineapple chunks and 3/4 cup frozen mango OR 11/2 cups frozen blueberries and 1/2 cup pomegranate juice

1 tablespoon sugar, plus extra for seasoning

Pinch salt

Place ingredients in blender. Process on low speed until combined but still coarse in texture, about 10 seconds. Increase speed to high and continue to process until mixture is completely smooth, 20 to 40 seconds. Season with extra sugar to taste and serve. Serves 2.

— “The Complete Cooking for Two Cookbook” (America’s Test Kitchen, April 2014, $29.95)

Nutrition: 230 calories, 43 grams carbs, 10 grams protein, 2.5 grams fat, 4 grams fiber

Curry Egg Salad Sandwich

Swapping low-fat Greek yogurt for mayo in this tasty egg salad not only lowers the fat content but also adds protein.

1/4 cup low-fat plain Greek yogurt

2 tablespoons golden raisins

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

2 scallions, sliced

1/2 teaspoon curry powder

1/8 teaspoon each salt and pepper

4 hard-boiled eggs, chopped

2 whole grain bagels, cut in half

4 slices avocado

1/4 cup fresh cilantro, coarsely chopped

In bowl, stir together yogurt, raisins, mustard, scallions, curry powder, salt and pepper. Gently stir in chopped eggs.

Divide egg mixture between 2 bagel halves. Top each with an equal amount of avocado and cilantro. Top with remaining bagel halves.

Serves 2.

— “The Runner’s World Cookbook: 150 Ultimate Recipes” (Rodale, Oct. 2013, $26.99 or $9.24 Kindle edition)

Nutrition: 421 calories, 51 grams carbs, 22 grams protein, 9 grams fiber, 17 grams total fat

Quinoa Pilaf with herbs and lemon

Paired with grilled chicken breast or fish, this makes for a quick and healthful meal for tired or time-challenged runners; I made it at 9:30 p.m., after a taxing speed workout. Toasting the quinoa gives it a rich, nutty flavor — my daughter accused me of “cooking with peanut butter” when she got a whiff. Quinoa is one of the most protein-rich foods you can eat (24 grams per serving), and it’s also rich in anti-inflammatoryphytonutrients.

1½ cups prewashed quinoa

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 2 pieces

1 small onion, chopped fine

3/4 teaspoon salt

13/4 cups water

3 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs

1 tablespoon lemon juice

Toast quinoa in medium saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until quinoa is very fragrant and makes continuous popping sound, 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer quinoa to bowl and set aside.

Return now-empty pan to medium-low heat and melt butter. Add onion and salt; cook, stirring frequently, until onion is softened and light golden, 5 to 7 minutes.

Increase heat to medium-high, stir in water and quinoa, and bring to simmer. Cover, reduce heat to low and simmer until grains are just tender and liquid is absorbed, 18 to 20 minutes, stirring once halfway through cooking. Remove pan from heat and let sit, covered, for 10 minutes. Fluff quinoa with fork, stir in herbs and lemon juice and serve.

Serves 4 to 6.

— Cooks Illustrated, Jan./Feb. 2014

Nutrition: 384 calories,59 grams carbs, 13 grams protein, 7 grams fiber, 10 grams total fat

Beef and snow pea stir-fry

Pasta is classic runners’ food. Satisfy your need for noodles with this Asian dish, which comes dressed in a (slightly) spicy peanut sauce. If you don’t eat red meat, feel free to substitute chicken or firm tofu that’s been pressed and cut into 1-inch chunks.


9-ounce package soba noodles or whole-wheat spaghetti

1 tablespoon canola oil

3/4 pound sirloin beef, thinly sliced into 2-inch pieces

1/2 pound snow peas, trimmed

1/2 cup Peanut Dressing (recipe follows)

8-ounce can sliced water chestnuts, drained

Bring large pot of water to boil over high heat. When it boils, salt the water and add noodles. Cook according to package directions.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add beef and cook, stirring frequently, for 3 minutes, or until lightly browned.

Add snow peas and cook, stirring frequently, for 3 minutes. Add peanut sauce, water chestnut and cooked noodles. Toss to coat everything with sauce.

Serves 4.

— “The Runner’s World Cookbook: 150 Ultimate Recipes” (Rodale, Oct. 2013, $26.99 or $9.24 Kindle edition)

Nutrition: 538 calories, 67 grams carbs, 35 grams protein, 15 grams total fat, 8 grams fiber.

Peanut Dressing

1/3 cup peanuts

3 tablespoons sesame oil

3 tablespoons rice vinegar

2 tablespoons soy sauce

2 teaspoons peeled and chopped fresh ginger

2 teaspoons sugar

Juice 1/2 lime

1 clove garlic

1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

Combine all ingredients in a blender or food processor. Blend/process for 1 minute, or until smooth and creamy.

Makes about 1/4 cup dressing.

Quick Caribbean chicken

Perfect for those times when you need a really quick meal to bring you back to life. I added chopped red pepper and canned pineapple for extra color and crunch.

12 ounces chicken, cut into thin strips

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 to 1/8 teaspoon ground red pepper

1 teaspoon cooking oil

1 medium sweet potato, peeled, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced (I cut it into small chunks)

1/4 cup chopped red bell pepper (about 1/3 pepper)

1 small banana pepper, seeded and chopped

3/4 cup unsweetened pineapple juice

2 unripe bananas, quartered lengthwise and cut into 3/4-inch pieces

1/2 cup canned or fresh pineapple chunks

2 cups hot, cooked brown rice

Season chicken with salt and red pepper. In a large, nonstick skillet, cook chicken in hot oil for 3 to 4 minutes. Add sweet potato, chopped red pepper and banana pepper. Cook and stir for 5 to 6 minutes more or until chicken is no longer pink and potato is just tender.

In a small bowl, stir together pineapple juice and cornstarch; stir into chicken mixture. Cook and stir gently until slightly thickened and bubbly. Stir in bananas and pineapple chunks, if using. Cook and stir 2 minutes more. Serve over cooked brown rice.

Makes 4 main-dish servings.

— Adapted from

Nutrition: 326 calories, 50 grams carbs, 20 grams protein, 5 grams total fat, 4 grams fiber

Shrimp with Israeli Couscous, Spring Peas, Mint and Lemon

The most popular seafood in the U.S., shrimp is a lean source of protein. It’s also a good way work into your diet selenium, a mineral which may help reduce the joint inflammation that runners can experience from training.

2 lemons

1 cup grated parmesan cheese

2 cups almonds, blanched

3/4 cup plus 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided

1 bunch mint leaves (about 1 cup)

1 pound Israeli couscous

1 pound large shrimp, cleaned, peeled and deveined

2 cups fresh or frozen spring peas

Salt and ground red pepper, to taste

For garnish

1 bunch mint leaves

1/2 cup toasted almonds

Zest and juice 1 of the lemons; reserve the zest. Make a pesto by combining the lemon juice, pamesan cheese, almonds, 3/4 cup olive oil and mint.

Boil liberally salted water in a large pot. Add couscous and cook for 6 to 7 minutes. Drain and set aside.

Heat a large skillet with remaining 2 teaspoons olive oil. Add shrimp and saute quickly, about 3 to 4 minutes per side. Add peas and continue cooking. Add 1 cup pesto, followed by the couscous.

Juice the second lemon and season the couscous with the lemon juice, salt and ground red pepper. Finish with the mint leaves, reserved lemon zest and toasted almonds.

Serves 6.

Nutrition: 650 calories, 77 grams carbs, 32 grams protein, 24 grams total fat.

— “The Athlete’s Palate Cookbook” by Yishane Lee and the editors of Runner’s World (Rodale, $13.09 Kindle edition)

Low-Cal Oatmeal cookies

It’s just not a meal without something sweet for dessert, don’t you agree? I need chocolate to get through the day, so mixed 1/2 cup of chocolate chips into the batter, adding about 400 calories (or about 10 calories per cookie).

The first time I made these cookies I substituted mashed banana for the applesauce and my running group gobbled them up. But I think they’re better with the original recipe, especially if you ditch the Splenda for real sugar to get your family to eat them, too. Perfect for a quick after-run pickup.

1½ cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

3 cups old-fashioned or quick-cooking oats

1 cup dark or golden raisins

1 cup walnuts or pecans, finely chopped

1/2 cup reduced-calorie, trans fat-free margarine

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1/4 cup packed brown sugar

1/4 cup Splenda

2 large eggs or 1/2 cup egg substitute

3/4 cup unsweetened applesauce

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup bittersweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Coat 2 or 3 heavy baking sheets with cooking spray.

In another large bowl, stir together flour, cinnamon, baking soda and salt. Stir in oats and then the raisins and nuts.

In another bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed, beat together margarine, granulated and brown sugars and Splenda until well blended. Beat in eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in applesauce, vanilla and chocolate chips. With mixer at low speed, add dry ingredients in 2 batches, just until blended.

Drop dough by heaping tablespoons onto prepared baking sheets, spacing them 1 inch apart. Bake until crisp and lightly brown, 10 to 12 minutes. Repeat with remaining dough.

Makes 4 dozen cookies.

— Adapted from “The Men’s Health Big Book of Food & Nutrition” by Joel Weber (Rodale, $26.99)

Nutrition: 84.7 calories, 11.8 grams carbs, 1.9 gram protein, 3.5 grams fat.


Pizza on the grill is easier than you think

Grilled pizza with sausage and peppers. Gretchen McKay

I love BBQ chicken, burgers and hot dogs as much as anyone, so long as the meat is juicy and charred and the franks are the good ones — all beef and kosher. Yet every summer for the past few grilling seasons, I’ve vowed to learn how to cook something a little different on my trusty Grill King gas grill.

A few years ago I tried planking; another summer I was on a grilled fruit, seafood and vegetable kick. I’ve also tried my hand at grilled desserts and fed my family any number of flame-kissed international dishes, including a memorable Iranian lamb kebab that involved shaping ground meat with wet hands onto a sword-like skewer. One July I even roasted an entire pig on a charcoal grill so big, I had to rent a trailer to haul it into my backyard.

This year, it’s all about pizza.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been mixing, kneading, tossing and saucing myself into a frenzy (kids’ words, not mine). But the effort, and occasional cuss word until I got the hang of making a decent dough, has been well worth it. Even if it meant gaining a few extra pounds from all that crust and cheese.

If you like pizza — and seriously, who doesn’t? — you’re going to love it on the grill. Pies cooked on charcoal or gas have a slightly smoky flavor that can’t be replicated in the oven or local pizza shop. And the crust, because it’s cooked on both sides, packs an awesome crunch.

As my daughter Olivia, who taste-tested every pie that came off the hot grates, puts it, “It’s crispy but it’s still a tiny little bit soft on the inside.”

We also liked the endless variety of toppings, which extend far beyond classic tomato sauce and mozzarella — everything from veggies and meat to fruit, nuts, pesto and gourmet cheeses one doesn’t necessarily associate with pizza.

“Specialty cheeses can elevate your pizza to a whole new level,” write ElizabethKarmel and Bob Blumer in the terrific “Pizza on the Grill” (Taunton, 2008), considered by many the bible of pizza grilling cookbooks. Their recipes include pies made with pesto and brie and lobster paired with creme fraiche and St. Andre, a triple creme cheese; a Black ‘n’ Blue Steak Pizza marries sirloin with Roquefort. “Think of today’s pizzas as a new kind of cheese course.”

Ashamed to admit you’re a neophyte? Don’t be. While professional chefs have been grilling pizza for a while now, it’s only in the past few years that everyday backyard cooks have started to master the technique. But do consider playing catch up, because it’s not nearly as hard as you might think. Actually, it’s pretty easy, once you get the hang of it, and no more time consuming than grilling a steak or chicken, if you prepare the dough beforehand. Plus, think of all the money you’ll save on takeout.

The key to good pizza is the crust. You want it crispy and crunchy, but not so much so that your family will suspect you accidentally burned it. Part of that involves picking a primo recipe (we offer several good options below, including a super-quick recipe from “Pizza on the Grill” in which the dough only has to rise for an hour). But if you’re like me, you may also have to practice your technique a few times to achieve a well-marked and evenly browned bottom and top that’s properly melty. The trick is using the “combo” method of cooking the pizzas on both direct (directly over the heat source) and indirect heat (the unlit section of the grill).

The jury is out on whether the best pies are grilled on a ceramic pizza stone or cooked directly on the grates; I tried both ways, and each worked great. The experts also can’t seem to agree whether you should flip the crust half way through cooking — celebrity chef Bobby Flay in his latest cookbook “Barbecue Addiction” joins the editors of “The Grilling Book: The Definitive Guide from Bon Appetit” in telling readers to grill both sides of the crust before adding toppings. But the authors of “Pizza on the Grill” instruct you to cook only one side before putting a loaded pie back on the grill to finish cooking.

If you use a stone, be sure to preheat it with the grill or it could crack. Don’t fret if you don’t have a wooden pizza peel on which to place your dough after rolling or patting it out on a work surface dusted with flour or fine cornmeal. An oiled piece of parchment or rimless baking sheet/metal spatula is just as efficient for flipping or sliding the crust onto the hot grates or stone.

A few words here about the dough, which you should try to stretch and pull into shape with your hands, making it as thin as possible (1/4-inch thick is about right) to ensure it cooks all the way through. Don’t worry if it’s not a perfect circle or rectangle — all anybody really cares about is that it tastes good — and be sure to brush a little oil on the grill grates or disks of dough so the uncooked pizza crust doesn’t stick. If you’re making the dough earlier in the day or week (it freezes for up to three months), allow it to rest for an hour or so at room temperature before using; this allows the gluten in the dough to relax and makes shaping easier. A softball-sized ball of dough will make a 12- to 14-inch pie that serves two people, or one hungry teenaged girl who isn’t afraid to not count calories. Tempting as it might be to pile them on, don’t put too many toppings on at once, as that makes it difficult for the crust to get nice and crisp.

If you don’t have the time or desire to make dough from scratch, Trader Joe’s sells a pretty good pre-made dough for just $1.19 (look for it in little plastic bags in the refrigerated section; it comes in regular, herb and whole-wheat). I also bought fresh dough at the pizza counter at Whole Foods Market in Pine ($2.99/pound) and I’m guessing your local pizzeria would be happy to sell you a big hunk of raw dough, too, for just a couple of bucks.

As for the actual grilling, always start with a pre-heated grill — pizza dough is best when it’s cooked quickly at a very high temperature (around 650 degrees, if your grill goes that high). Also, it’s smart to have your sauce, cheese and other toppings cut, diced, shredded or otherwise at the ready. It only takes about 90 seconds for a naked disk of dough to puff up and get crispy. Since the crust will cook much quicker than the toppings, pre-cook your meats and vegetables beforehand so all they really have to do is warm up.

After it’s properly dressed, it’ll take another two to three minutes for the cheese to melt and toppings to cook through on indirect heat. Close the lid and resist the temptation to peek — every time you open the grill, you’ll lose precious heat, and your family will have to wait that much longer to eat.



I liked this dough the best. It was super easy!

  • 1 cup warm water, plus more as needed
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon sugar or honey
  • 1/2-ounce package active dry yeast
  • 3 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Place water, oil and sugar in a bowl. Sprinkle yeast on top and let sit until foamy, about 5 minutes.

In another bowl, combine flour and salt. Add 1/2 cup at a time to water mixture. If dough is stiff, add more water; if dough is sticky, add more flour 1 tablespoon at a time. Continue to mix until it feels elastic.

Turn dough out onto a well-floured work surface and knead for about 1 minute, until just smooth and easy to work with, adding extra flour as needed to the surface to keep it from sticking. Do not overwork the dough or it will be tough.

Place the dough in an oiled clean bowl, turn it several times to coat the dough and then drizzle a little oil on top. Cover tightly with plastic wrap, place in a warm spot and let it rise until it doubles in size, about 1 hour.

Punch the dough down and knead on a lightly floured surface, for 1 to 2 minutes until smooth. Divide into 2 equal-sized balls and continue with your pizza making. The dough can be made ahead and frozen for up to a month; thaw at room temperature before using.

Makes enough for 2 large pizzas.

— “Pizza on the Grill: 100 Feisty Fire-Roasted Recipes for Pizza and More” by Elizabeth Karmel and Bob Blumer (Taunton, $9.99 on Kindle)


Grilled Pizzas with Sausage, Peppers and Herbs

Pizza crust cooks very quickly, so toppings need to be either pre-cooked or edible raw. This recipe combines spicy Italian sausage with sweet bell pepper.

  • 2 balls (1 pound each) pre-made pizza dough
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium red or green bell pepper, cut into 1/4-inch strips
  • 1/2 small yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 8 ounces mild or spicy Italian sausage
  • All-purpose flour
  • 8-ounce can tomato sauce
  • 1/4 cup thinly sliced black olives
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh thyme leaves
  • 2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh rosemary leaves
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese

Remove the balls of dough from the refrigerator, if necessary, about 1 hour before grilling so that the dough is easier to roll.

In a large skillet over medium-high heat, warm 1 tablespoon oil. Add the bell pepper and the onion and cook until softened but not browned, about 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove the vegetables from the skillet and set aside.

Add the sausage to the skillet, breaking it into medium-sized pieces. Cook over medium-high heat until lightly browned and fully cooked, about 3 minutes, stirring occasionally and breaking the sausage into smaller pieces. Remove the skillet from the heat, and let the sausage cool in the skillet.

Prepare the grill for direct cooking over medium heat (350 to 450 degrees) and preheat a pizza stone for at least 15 minutes, following manufacturer’s instructions. Meanwhile, prepare your first pizza.

Using a rolling pin on a lightly floured work surface, roll out the dough, one ball at a time, into rounds about 12 inches wide and 1/3-inch thick. (If the dough retracts, cover it with a kitchen towel, let it rest for 5 minutes, and then continue.) Set the first round aside while you roll out the second.

Carefully transfer your first round of pizza dough onto a pizza peel (or a rimless baking sheet) lightly coated with flour. Spread 1/2 cup of the sauce over the dough. Scatter half of the sausage, half of the pepper-and-onion mixture, half of the olives, and half of the parsley, thyme and rosemary on top. Finish by scattering half of the cheese on top of everything.

Slide your first pizza onto the preheated pizza stone and cook over direct medium heat, with the lid closed, until the crust is golden brown and the cheese is melted, 9 to 11 minutes. Using a pizza peel or a large spatula, remove the pizza from the pizza stone and let rest for a few minutes. Cut into wedges and serve warm.

Repeat steps 6 and 7 with the remaining dough, sauce, and toppings. Makes 2 pizzas.

— “Weber’s New Real Grilling: The Ultimate Cookbook for Every Backyard Griller” by Jamie Purviance (Sunset, April 2013, $24.95)

Pizza with Shallots, Wild Mushrooms, Olive Oil and Fontina

Grilled pizza with shallots and mushrooms/Gretchen McKay

I didn’t smoke the oil.

  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided, plus more for drizzling
  • 7 cups quartered mushrooms
  • 6 to 8 medium shallots, julienned (about 1 cup)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
  • 2 teaspoons coarse sea salt,
  • 3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 balls pizza dough, fresh or store-bought
  • 1 1/2 cups grated fontina cheese

Turn gas grill to high or ignite charcoal. If using gas grill, once it’s hot, decrease temperature to medium-high. Set a plancha or two large cast-iron pans on the grill rack to heat.

Pour about 2 tablespoons oil onto plancha or into each pan. Let oil heat, then add mushrooms in a single layer. Drizzle the remaining olive oil over the mushrooms. Cook without stirring until they’re brown on the bottom, about 7 minutes. Add shallots and stir with the mushrooms. Sprinkle on the thyme, salt and pepper and cook until lightly caramelized, another 4 minutes. Take pan off fire and put pizza stone on your grill rack to heat.

On a floured surface, roll out each ball of dough until 10 to 12 inches across. Grill the naked rounds of dough on the preheated pizza stone until dough puffs up and bottom shows some brown, about 11/2 minutes. Either using a peel or long tongs, flip pizza and grill for another 90 seconds. With a pizza peel, take pizza off heat. If you like, you can grill all 3 naked pizzas and then set them aside to be ready for the toppings.

Top each pizza with 1/2 cup of the mushroom mixture and 1/2 cup of Fontina. With a pizza peel, transfer pizza back to pizza stone, close the lid of the grill and cook for about 1 minute.

Transfer pizza to cutting board, drizzle each pizza with a little olive oil, cut into slices and serve.

Makes 3 10-inch pizzas; serves 6.

— “Michael Chiarello’s Live Fire: 125 Recipes for Cooking Outdoors” by Michael Chiarello (Chronicle, May 2013, $35)


Grilled pizza with pears and pecorino/Gretchen McKay


Pizza with Pears, Pecorino and Walnuts

This is a perfect pizza for dessert.

  • All-purpose flour for dusting
  • 2 pounds store-bought fresh pizza dough, room temperature
  • Oil for grill grate
  • 12 ounces aged manchego, parmesan or pecorino
  • 2 pears, halved, cored and very thinly sliced
  • 2/3 cup walnut pieces, coarsely broken
  • Freshly cracked black pepper
  • Extra-virgin olive oil for drizzling

Build a medium-hot 2-zone fire in a charcoal grill or heat a gas grill to high. Sprinkle 2 rimless baking sheets with flour. Divide dough into 2 equal pieces; roll out each on a floured surface to a 15-inch round. Transfer to prepared baking sheets.

Brush grill grate with oil. Place one dough round on grate on hotter side of grill and cook until lightly charred and no longer sticking, 2 to 3 minutes. Using tongs, turn dough over and grill until cooked through, 1 to 2 minutes longer. Using a spatula, transfer crust to rimless baking sheet. Repeat with second dough round. If using a gas grill, reduce heat to medium.

Thinly slice cheese and arrange on top of crusts, leaving a 1/2-inch plain border. Cover cheese with a single layer of pear slices, then scatter walnuts over.

Working one at a time, slide pizzas from baking sheets onto cool part of grill. Cover grill and cook pizza until cheese softens and bottoms are crisp, 4 to 5 minutes. Transfer pizza to work surface. Season with pepper; drizzle with oil.

Makes 2 15-inch pizzas.

— “The Grilling Book: The Definitive Guide from Bon Appetit” (Andrews McMeel, May 2013, $45)

Blue Corn and Green Chile Pizza

This pizza is a marriage between Italy and the American Southwest, where green chiles are put on all kinds of food. The crust was super easy to make and super crisp.

  • For dough
  • 1 1/2 cups bread flour
  • 1/2 cup stone-ground blue cornmeal or other cornmeal
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 envelope rapid-rise yeast (about 21/2 teaspoons)
  • 3/4 cup lukewarm water (105 to 115 degrees)
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • For cilantro pesto
  • 1 cup lightly packed chopped fresh cilantro
  • 2 tablespoons pepitas (hulled pumpkin seeds) or slivered almonds
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled
  • 1/4 cup grated dry (aged) jack, cotija, percorino romano or Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt or coarse sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • For toppings
  • 1 1/4 cups grated asadero, Monterey jack or pepper jack cheese, at room temperature
  • 1 cup shredded grilled or smoked chicken breast (optional)
  • 2 small red-ripe plum tomatoes, chopped
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup chopped fresh or (thawed) frozen mild green chiles, such as New Mexican or Anaheim, at room temperature
  • Crushed red pepper (I used ground pimenton pepper)

Prepare pizza crust. In food processor, pulse together flour, cornmeal, salt and yeast.

With motor running, add water, all but 1/2 teaspoon of oil, and garlic. Continue processing for about 30 seconds more, until dough forms a fairly cohesive ball that is smooth and elastic. If it remains sticky, add another tablespoon or two of flour.

Knead dough a few times on a floury work surface, forming it into a ball. Pour remaining 1/2 teaspoon oil into a large bowl and add dough, turn it around and over until coated with oil. Cover with damp cloth. Set dough in a warm, draft-free spot and let rise until doubled in volume, about 1 hour.

Punch dough down on a floured surface and let rest for 10 minutes. Roll dough into two thin disks, about 10 inches in diameter, stretching and prodding it with your fingers.

Fire up the grill for high heat on one side and medium-low heat on the other. Prepare cilantro pesto by combining cilantro, pepitas, garlic and cheese in a food processor. Pulse to blend. With motor still running, add oil in a thin, steady drizzle. Add salt and pepper to taste and combine again.

Place pesto, a spoon for the pesto and remaining ingredients within easy reach of the grill. The process must go quickly once you begin cooking. Place baking sheet on a convenient work surface near the grill and have a large spatula or pizza peel ready.

Place first crust on the grill by laying it directly on the cooking grate over high heat. Grill, uncovered, for 1 to 1 1/2 minutes, until crust becomes firm but is still flexible. Don’t worry about any bubbles that form as they will be flattened when you turn over the crust in the next step.

Using a spatula or peel, flip crust onto a baking sheet, cooked side up. Immediately brush with half each of the pesto, cheese, chicken, tomatoes and green chile, and top with a sprinkling of red pepper. Quickly return pizza to the grill, uncooked side down, half over high heat and half over medium-low heat. Cook for another 3 to 4 minutes, rotating it a quarter every 30 to 45 seconds. Check the bottom during the last minute or two; you want a uniformly brown, crisp crust.

Slice pizza into wedges and serve immediately. Repeat process for your second pizza.

Makes 2 pizzas.

— “100 Grilling Recipes You Can’t Live Without” by Cheryl and Bill Jamison (Harvard Common Press, March 2012, $16.95) )

Bobby Flay’s Pizza Dough

This dough also was simple to make, but required a longer proofing period.

  • 2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast (a 1/2-ounce envelope)
  • 2 cups warm water (105 to 115 degrees)
  • 5 to 5 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, divided, plus more for dusting work surface
  • 2 teaspoons fine sea salt
  • Extra-virgin olive oil

Dissolve yeast in warm water in a large bowl. Let stand for 5 minutes. Stir in 3 cups flour and salt, mixing until smooth. Continue adding flour (up to 1/2 cup), 1 tablespoon at a time, stirring until the dough comes away from the bowl but is still sticky.

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead with lightly floured hands. Start by slapping the dough onto the surface, pulling it toward you with one hand and pushing it away from you with the other.

Fold dough back over itself (use a bench scraper or a wide knife to help scrape dough from the surface). Repeat until the dough is easier to handle, about 10 times. Finish kneading normally until dough is smooth, elastic and soft, but a little tacky, about 10 minutes. Alternatively, you can mix and knead the dough in a stand mixer fitted with the dough-hook attachment.

Shape dough into a ball, transfer to a lightly oiled bowl, and turn to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until it doubles in volume, about 3 hours. Press with your finger to see if it’s ready; an indent should remain.

Makes enough for 4 6-inch or 2 10-inch pizzas

— “Bobby Flay’s Barbecue Addiction: by Bobby Flay (Clarkson Potter, April 2013, $35) )

Stuffed Pizza with the Works

This deep-dish pie is perfect for those who don’t want to deal with cooking on a peel or grate. Serve in wedges, with extra sauce on the side for dipping. I layered the pepperoni on top because I forgot to add it to the veggies. This is a very thick, filling pizza.

  • For filling
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 cups finely chopped yellow onion
  • 1 1/2 cups diced green bell pepper
  • 1 pound button mushrooms, sliced
  • 4 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • For sauce
  • 8-ounce can tomato sauce
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
  • For pizza 11/2 pounds pre made pizza dough
  • All-purpose flour
  • 7 ounces grated mozzarella cheese (about 2 cups
  • )
  • 5 ounces sliced pepperoni

Prepare grill for direct and indirect cooking over medium heat (350 to 450 degrees).

Prepare filling: In a large skillet over medium heat, warm oil. Add onions and pepper and cook until slightly softened, about 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add mushrooms and cook until tender and liquid is evaporated, about 12 minutes. During last minute, stir in garlic, salt and pepper. Remove from heat and set aside to cool. In a large skillet over medium heat, warm the oil. Add onions and bell pepper and cook until slightly softened, about 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add mushrooms and cook till tender and lightly browned and any liquid they have released is evaporated, about 12 min. During the last minute, stir in the garlic, salt and pepper. Remove the filling from the heat and set aside to cool. Combine the sauce ingredients. Remove dough from refrigerator, if necessary, about hour before grilling so that it’s easier to roll.

Lightly coat 10-inch cast iron skillet with oil. Divide dough into 2 balls, one with 2/3 of the dough and the other with the remaining 1/3. On a lightly floured work surface, roll, pat and stretch larger ball into a 14-inch round. (If dough retracts, cover it with kitchen towel, let rest for 5 minutes, then continue rolling.)

Transfer dough to skillet, letting excess hang over sides to keep dough from sliding into skillet. Gently stretch dough to fit skillet, pressing into corners but being careful not to tear the dough. Spread 1 cup of mozzarella on top of dough. Spread one half of filling on top of cheese and place one-half of pepperoni in a single layer on top of the filling. Repeat with another layer using remaining filling and remaining pepperoni.

Top evenly with 1/2 cup of the mozzarella. Roll, pat and stretch remaining piece of dough into 10-inch round. Place round on top of the filling and press down to remove any visible air pockets.

Brush some water on the edges of the top and bottom pieces of dough where they come together and then roll and pinch the edges to seal them. Prick dough in several places to release any new air pockets. Spread sauce over top crust, leaving edges where dough is sealed uncovered. Top sauce with remaining 1/2 cup mozzarella.

Place skillet over direct medium heat. Close the lid and cook until the edges of the dough look set and somewhat dry, about 5 minutes. Move the skillet over indirect medium heat and continue cooking, with the lid closed, until crust is golden brown, about 35 to 45 minutes. (My pizza cooked in about 20 minutes.) Remove skillet from grill and let pizza rest for 10 minutes. Using wide spatula, slide onto serving platter. Cut into wedges, and serve warm.

— “Weber’s New Real Grilling: The Ultimate Cookbook for Every Backyard Griller” by Jamie Purviance (Sunset, April 2013, $24.95) )


America’s classic combo: Grilled cheese and tomato soup

Kevin Sousa’s Sriracha Tomato Soup/Gretchen McKay


Soup for lunch or dinner always is a good idea when temperatures start to dip, and nothing quite hits the spot like the creamy, savory tomato concoction of our childhood. One spoonful and you’re instantly transported back to a time when Mom tucked you in at night, Saturday morning meant the couch and cartoons, and said soup was carried to school, with a baggie of saltines, in a Thermos.

The taste is so mm-mm good that Campbell’s, who introduced the world to its condensed tomato soup in 1897, sells enough cans to be eaten by more than 25 million people at least once a week.

Yet why go the canned route when making tomato soup from scratch is so easy? Not to mention packed with flavor, depending on what you stir into the pot along with the tomatoes.

One of Chef Kevin Sousa’s recent specials at Station Street in East Liberty was a fiery Tomato-Sriracha Soup crafted from sake, cream and garlicky Sriracha, the sinus-cleaning hot sauce made with fresh red jalapenos, garlic powder and vinegar.

Yet what’s tomato soup without an accompanying grilled cheese, all toasty brown on the outside and oozing like a lava flow with melted cheese?

Get people talking about this magical combination, and they tend to wax poetic. That includes those who wouldn’t get near a fresh tomato if their lives depended on it, says Sara Raszewski, co-owner of Soup Nancys, which sells its from-scratch homemade soups, including a to-die-for Tomato & Orange, at Pittsburgh Public Market in the Strip District.

“It reminds lots of us of childhood, and stands out as a requested meal by children,” she says. “But it also echoes the classic combination of cheese and tomato that can be found in pizza, Caprese salad, or one of my favorites: a bagel with cream cheese and tomato slices.”

Mr. Sousa is another who grew up on tomato soup and grilled cheese — specifically, canned tomato soup thinned with milk or water and sandwiches made with soft white bread and bright-orange, processed American slices.

“For me, this combination either meant that I was home from school sick (always a good thing) or that there had recently been cold weather fun (sled riding and such),” he remembers.

Now a parent himself, he’s shared the classic combo with his own kids under similar circumstances, almost as a right of passage. “Sitting there in long underwear at the kitchen table while your extremities tingle and itch as they thaw out, all over a steamy bowl of tomato soup … that’s Americana,” he says.

Small wonder, then, that grilled cheese and tomato soup are hot sellers on local menus.

Restaurants as varied as Crested Duck Charcuterie in Beechview (which offers a grilled cheese du jour) to Casbah in Shadyside offer the duo. So does Industry Public House in Lawrenceville, where a grilled “Electric Cheese” marries aged white cheddar with fresh mozzarella on raisin challah. In the Post-Gazette snack bar, it’s made “Texas” style with thick slices of Italian bread and bacon — perfect for dunking in the pale-orange cream of tomato soup it’s paired with.

Tomato soup is an American classic. Gretchen McKay

The combo has enough culinary cred that last year, Larry and Doreen Gunas of Evans City started Oh My Grill, a food truck serving specialty grilled cheese sandwiches with homemade “dipping” soups. Along with daily specials, the menu includes a “build your own” sandwich with a choice of three cheeses. The bestseller, says Mr. Gunas, is a grilled cheese with smoked gouda, white cheddar, caramelized onions and applewood bacon, and served with potato or spicy tomato soup.

The truck’s been so successful that when it fires up operations again in early spring, they’ll go from part- to full-time. (For a schedule, visit

Can’t wait that long, or maybe just looking for an updated version of Kraft American on Wonder bread (which incidentally, tastes just as good today as it did 30 years ago)? You also can whip up something pretty spectacular at home, pretty easily.

First, the cheese

You want to choose a cheese that is going to melt well without becoming a gloppy mess. (Remember, you’ll be eating it with your fingers.) Low-fat cheeses such as feta or queso panela don’t melt as much as crumble, and creamy fresh cheeses (super-soft goat cheese, mascarpone, etc.) tend to get runny when heated in a pan unless they’re paired with a cheese that’s a bit more robust.

Cheddar, muenster and American cheese are perennial favorites, and you also can’t miss with Gruyere, a sweet-salty hard cheese that pairs especially well with caramelized onions. Other excellent choices include mozzarella, provolone and Swiss (terrific with roasted or fresh sliced tomato) and softer cheeses such as brie or havarti, a creamy Danish cheese that goes beautifully with fresh or dried fruits like apricots.

I’m also a big fan of bleu cheeses — grilled gorgonzola and apple will knock your socks off — and extra-hard cheeses such as parmesan and pecorino. Both of those have to be finely grated or shaved for what Marlena Spieler, author of “Grilled Cheese: 50 Recipes to Make You Melt” (Chronicle, 2004), calls “optimum meltability.”

The list of acceptable cheeses goes on and on, which for many cooks is a good thing, because the best grilled cheese sandwiches very often ooze a luscious mix of two or more varieties. Recently at Station Street in East Liberty, for example, Mr. Sousa paired brioche with slices of cheddar, American, bleu and provolone cheeses.

Choose a bread

Sourdough, baguettes, rolls, raisin bread, rye, whole-grain — it really depends on personal taste and what’s available at the market. Whatever you fancy, make sure the slices aren’t too thin or the sandwich will get brown and crispy before the cheese inside has time to get gooey. Unless, of course, the cheese is so soft or thin that it melts quickly — then you want thin bread. Super-thick slices also are doomed to fail, because the cheese won’t get melty.

When in doubt, a good-quality plain sliced white bread with a firm close-textured crumb, Ms. Spieler writes, “is the best thing most grilled cheese sandwiches could want.” That said, cheddar is wonderful on raisin bread and Swiss sings on a hearty rye.

Don’t be afraid to butter up when it comes to assembling the sandwich — the bread, that is, and not the nonstick or cast-iron pan or griddle you’ll be cooking it in. Put the sandwich in a pan already sizzling with butter or oil, and the fat will immediately be soaked up by the bread in a random, blotchy manner, notes Laura Werlin in “Grilled Cheese, Please! 50 Scrumptiously Cheesy Recipes” (Andrews McMeel, 2011, $16.99). Plus, you’ll be making a deep-fried sandwich.

Slow and low

Go for slow, even cooking rather than a fast fry to assure proper melting, and make sure there’s not too much cheese hanging over the edges of the sandwich — the crispy, cheesy bits are messy. If you weigh down the sandwiches with a lid or saucepan, or simply press on it every so often with a spatula, the result is a crisper, more compact grilled cheese.

This is one sandwich you can’t really cook ahead of time, because it’ll get soggy when you reheat it. But you can assemble it in the morning and store it in the fridge. That way, it’ll be ready to cook when you walk in the door after work or pile into the kitchen, cold and hungry, after an afternoon of sledding.

To really play it smart, also have a pot of tomato soup simmering on the stovetop.


Tomato & Orange Soup

“This soup recipe is great for grilled-cheese dipping, and it’s terrifically easy since it does not call for stock, and only needs to simmer for 15 minutes,” writes Sara Raszewski of Soup Nancys. The addition of baking soda helps to neutralize the acidity of the tomatoes and orange juice.

She suggests serving it with a “fancy” grilled cheese sandwich made from provolone or pepper jack, fresh basil, and raspberry-habanero jam.

  • 1 stick (8 tablespoons) butter
  • 2 medium onions, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
  • 2 28-ounce cans tomatoes (diced or crushed, depending on preference), or 4 1/2 pounds fresh tomatoes, peeled and diced
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme or 1 tablespoon fresh thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 cups orange juice (fresh is nice, but pre-squeezed is easier)
  • 1 cup heavy cream (or half-and-half)

Melt butter in saucepan over medium heat. Saute onion until translucent. Add garlic and saute 1 more minute. Add tomatoes (and their juice), salt, pepper, thyme and baking soda. Turn up heat and bring to a boil. Reduce heat. Simmer 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add orange juice and cream and heat through. Adjust seasonings to taste and serve hot. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

— Sara Raszewski, Soup Nancys

Tomato-Sriracha Soup

If you like things spicy, you will love this soup, which kicks it up a notch with Sriracha, a garlicky hot sauce. It’s addictive. You can find inexpensive sake (for cooking, not drinking) at Lotus Food Co. in the Strip District.

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 12 cloves peeled garlic
  • 2 16-ounce cans diced tomatoes in juice
  • 1 cup sake
  • 1 cup chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • Sriracha chili garlic sauce, to taste
  • Kosher salt to taste

In a heavy bottomed stainless steel pot over medium-high heat, brown garlic cloves in oil.

Add tomatoes and juice, bring to a simmer and reduce by half. Add sake, and reduce by 1/3. Add chicken stock, and again reduce by 1/3. Add heavy cream and Sriracha, and puree until smooth. Season with kosher salt and more Sriracha, as desired.

Makes about 1 quart, or 4 8-ounce servings

— Chef Kevin Sousa

Gruyere with Caramelized Onions

The original recipe calls for cooking this sandwich in a sandwich press, which I don’t have, so I grilled it in a hot skillet.

  • 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing
  • 4 medium onions, halved and cut lengthwise into 1/8-inch slices
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano, or 1 tablespoon dried Sicilian oregano
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 16 slices Gruyere cheese
  • 8 slices rye bread

Make roasted onions: In a skillet over medium-high heat, add the olive oil and onions and stir vigorously to avoid scorching. Add oregano and season with salt and pepper. Continue stirring until onions have a deep brown color. Reduce heat and continue to cook until onions are soft, 30 to 45 minutes. Use immediately or refrigerate for up to 1 week.

Make sandwich: Place 2 slices of cheese on each of 4 slices of bread. Follow with a generous amount of onions and the other 2 slices of cheese. Close the sandwiches.

Brush outside of sandwiches with a little olive oil and place in a hot pan over medium-high heat. Press the sandwich by placing another heavy pan on top and reduce heat to medium-low. When bottom of sandwich is golden and crusty, and the cheese has started to melt, flip the sandwich and grill on the other side. Once cooked, remove, cut into halves, and serve.

Makes 4 sandwiches.

— ” ‘Wichcraft: Craft a Sandwich into a Meal” by Tom Colicchio (Clarkson Potter, $27.50)

Apple Pie Bacon Grilled Cheese/Gretchen McKay









Apple Pie-Bacon Grilled Cheese

I saw this on “United States of Bacon.” Yum.

  • 4 thick slices of sourdough bread (or any bread you’d like)
  • Butter
  • 6 slices of sharp cheddar cheese
  • 16-ounce package Orville’s Apple-Pie Bacon (I used apple-smoked bacon)
  • 1 Granny Smith apple

Line a baking sheet with foil, then lay out the bacon on the sheet. Place in the oven and then heat the oven to 400 degrees. Set the time for 17 to 20 minutes. Once your bacon is cooked, pat the excess grease off with some paper towels.

Lay out your pieces of bread and butter each piece. Cover each piece of bread with your cheese slices. Feel free to use more or less if you’d like.

Core your apple then slice it into thin pieces. Layer your apple slices on 1 side of the bread for each sandwich. On top of the apples, layer your bacon! (Bacon strips will fit better on the bread if you cut them in half. Use as much bacon as you would like.) Place the other piece of bread and 3 slices of cheese on top of the bacon for each sandwich.

Heat a griddle or skillet pan to medium heat. Butter the top of your sandwiches liberally with butter. Be sure to cover the whole piece of bread. Once your griddle is warm, place the sandwiches butter side down onto it. Lower your heat to medium-low and cover it with a lid if you have one large enough.

After a few minutes, go ahead and flip the sandwiches. Cover again and grill for a few more minutes, until brown and toasty. Serve hot.

Makes 2 sandwiches.


Spicy, Crunchy, Sweet Goat-Cheese Melt

Spicy Crunchy Sweet Goat Cheese Melt/Gretchen McKay

Full of different flavors and textures, this probably will appeal more to grownups than kids. Peppercorns provide an unexpected zing.

  • 1 tablespoon green peppercorns (dry, not brined; or use black peppercorns)
  • 8 ounces goat cheese, at room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon milk, plus more if needed
  • 2 ounces dried apricots, finely chopped
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh thyme
  • 8 sandwich-size sliced walnut, multigrain or olive bread
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

Place peppercorns in a sturdy plastic bag and use the side of a cleaver, a meat mallet or a heavy can to crack the peppercorns. You don’t want to crush them into a powder; you just want them to crack into smaller coarse pieces.

In a small bowl, mix together goat cheese and milk until smooth and creamy. If mixtures is stiff, add more milk 1 teaspoon at a time. Add apricots, honey, peppercorns and thyme and stir until well mixed.

Brush one side of each of the bread slices with oil. Place 4 slices of bread, oil side down, on work surface. Divide and spread goat cheese mixture on the bread. Top with remaining bread slices, oil side up.

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat for 2 minutes. Put sandwiches into pan, cover and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, until golden brown. Flip sandwiches, pressing each one lightly with the spatula to flatten slightly. Cover and cook 3 to 4 minutes, until golden brown. Turn the sandwiches 1 more time, and cook for about 1 minute, or until the filling appears to be heated through. Remove from pan and cool for 5 minutes. Cut in half and serve.

Makes 4 sandwiches.

— “Grilled Cheese, Please! 50 Scrumptiously Delicious Recipes” by Laura Werlin (Andrews McMeel, 2011, $16.99)

Station Street Grilled Cheese

Simply put, this is decadence on a roll.

  • 8 slices of sandwich-sized brioche
  • 4 slices sharp cheddar
  • 12 slices American cheese
  • 4 slices provolone
  • Blue cheese to taste
  • 4 tablespoons butter (softened)

Butter one side of each slice of bread and place on a medium-high heat flat top griddle (butter side down), arrange cheeses on the bread open-faced, placing cheddar first on one side and blue first on the other (since the take longer to melt). Once bread has begun to brown lightly and cheeses are warming almost to melt temperature, fully assemble sandwich using a spatula and press lightly on both sides. Place a domed lid over the sandwich to complete melting.

Makes 4 sandwiches.

— Kevin Sousa

Aunt Stelli’s Open-Faced Grilled Cheddar and Dill Pickle

Who says a grilled cheese needs a top and bottom? This open-faced sandwich takes about 2 minutes to make, and is cheesy-delicious.

  • 4 slices good-quality white bread
  • 6 to 8 ounces mature cheddar cheese, thinly sliced
  • 1 to 2 sweet gherkin or kosher dill pickles, thinly sliced
  • Preheat the broiler.

Lightly toast the bread under the broiler, then top each slice with a little cheese, the pickle and more cheese. Broil until cheese melts and the edges of the bread get crisp and browned.

Serve right away, cut into quarters.

Serves 4.

— “Grilled Cheese: 50 Recipes to Make You Melt” by Marlena Spieler (Chronicle, $16.95)

Easy Homemade Tomato Soup/Gretchen McKay









Easy Homemade Tomato Soup

A pinch of saffron gives this quick, delicious soup a more complex flavor. I used imported La Valle San Marzano tomatoes from Pennsylvania Macaroni.

  • 3 tablespoons good olive oil
  • 3 cups yellow onions, chopped (2 onions)
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 4 cups chicken stock or broth
  • 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes, preferably San Marzano
  • Large pinch of saffron threads
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup half-and-half

In a large pot or Dutch oven or pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions and cook over medium-low heat for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until golden brown. Add the garlic and cook for 1 more minute. Stir in the chicken stock, tomatoes, saffron, 1 tablespoon salt and 1 teaspoon pepper. Bring the soup to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 15 minutes.

Remove soup from heat, and allow to cool slightly. Carefully puree soup in a blender until smooth (you may have to do this in batches; I used an immersion blender right in the pot). Return soup to the stove over low heat and stir in half-and-half. Taste and adjust seasoning as desired. Bring soup to a simmer and cook for 10 more minutes, stirring frequently.

Serve hot, with grilled cheese sandwiches.

Serves 6 to 8.

— Adapted from Ina Garten on


A tiny bites Thanksgiving, Part 2

Pear-Cranberry-Ginger Cutie Pies/Gretchen McKay


A formal Thanksgiving dinner is a wonderful opportunity to gather with friends and family at the table, but let’s be honest: It also can be a heck of a lot of work. Not to mention a timing nightmare for cooks with small ovens or ambitious menus that make it difficult to get 10 different dishes on the table at the same time.

So this year, why not simplify and build a Thanksgiving feast out of small dishes that can be prepared hours, or even a day, ahead of time and reheated throughout the day when the crowd gets hungry?


Pear-Cranberry-Ginger Cutie Pies

PG tested

Canned cranberry sauce is so boring! This festive recipe pairs fresh cranberries with juicy pears.

  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 16-ounce bag fresh or thawed frozen cranberries
  • 4 medium-sized Bosc pears
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh minced ginger
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch
  • All-Butter Pie Crust (recipe follows)

Whipped cream lightly flavored with vanilla and a hint of ginger, optional

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place rack in center of oven. Spray cups of a muffin pan with nonstick pan spray.

To make pie filling, in a large saucepan, stir the water and sugar to combine. Bring mixture to a boil over medium-high, and stir constantly until sugar dissolves.

Add cranberries to sugar mixture, and lower the heat. Simmer cranberries for about 10 minutes or until they start to pop. Drain cranberries and set aside.

Peel, core and cut pears into 1/2-inch cubes. In a large bowl, mix together pears, ginger and cornstarch. Add cranberries and stir to combine.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out each of the 2 dough patties to about 1/4-inch thickness (lightly dust with flour, if needed, to keep from sticking).

Cut 16 5 1/2-inch circles from dough. Reroll scraps to make all the circles, and avoid overhandling the dough. (I made much larger circles for 8 pies tucked into 1/2-pint jars.)

Gently but firmly press each dough circle into a muffin cup. For the crust edges, use the fold-tuck-crimp method. Spoon filling evenly into the shells and set aside.

Bake 25 to 30 minutes, until crust is golden brown. To see if crust bottom is golden, too, use a butter knife to pop a pie out of a muffin cup. If bottom is not brown, bake a few minutes longer. If pie top is browning too quickly, cover with foil for the final few minutes.

Makes 16 small or 8 medium-size Cutie Pies.

— “Cutie Pies: 40 Sweet, Savory and Adorable Recipes” by Dani Cone (Andrews McMeel, 2011, $16.99)


All-Butter Pie Crust

PG tested

  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cold, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 3/4 cup ice water

In a large bowl, combine flour, salt and sugar, and mix well.

Add butter to flour mixture and mix gently with pastry blender, a fork or your hands. The goal is to lightly incorporate the butter into the dry ingredients. The butter pieces should be well coated with the dry mixture and somewhat flattened.

Gradually add water to the flour mixture, 1 tablespoon at a time, and continue mixing dough until it comes together and forms pea-sized or crouton-sized crumbs. The dough should look like coarse individual pieces, not smooth and beaten together like cookie dough.

With your hands, gather dough crumbs together to form 2 patties, gently molding the mixture into a patty shape and being careful not to overhandle the dough. Wrap each patty in plastic wrap.

Chill dough for at least 1 hour or up to 3 days. The dough can also be frozen up to 2 weeks.

When ready to use dough, let it sit at room temperature for at least 10 minutes to soften it and make it workable.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out each of the 2 dough patties to about 1/4-inch thickness, lightly dusting it with flour, to prevent sticking, and making sure to roll the dough evenly.

Makes 1 double-crust 9-inch pie, 2 single-crust 9-inch pies, 16 cutie pies or 36 mini muffin pies.


Mini Buttermilk Biscuits/Gretchen McKay

Mini Buttermilk Biscuits

PG tested

Perfect for slicing in half and stuffing with turkey or ham.

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/4 cup ( 1/2 stick) cold unsalted butter, cubed
  • 1/3 cup buttermilk
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line baking sheet with parchment paper.

Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and pepper in a mixing bowl.

Using pastry cutter, 2 knives or your fingers, cut butter into flour mixture until it reaches a coarse, mealy texture.

Add buttermilk and mix with your hands until dough just comes together.

Form dough into an 8- to 10-inch-wide disk about 1/4 inch thick. Using a 1 1/2-inch circle cutter, cut out 8 biscuits and place on the prepared sheet.

Brush tops of biscuits with cream and bake for 16 to 20 minutes, or until golden brown.

Remove from oven and let cool slightly before serving.

— “Tiny Food Party!” Bite-size Recipes for Miniature Meals” by Teri Lyn Fisher & Jenny Park (Quirk, $18.95)




Maple-Glazed Brussels Sprout Lollipops

Sweet, buttery and salty, all in one delicious bite. You can find Urban Accents’ seasoning mix at Whole Foods, McGinnis Sisters or Market District.

  • 4 tablespoons butter, divided
  • 2 pounds fresh Brussels sprouts, cleaned and halved
  • 2 medium white onions, sliced
  • 2-ounce package Urban Accents Harvest Maple Poultry & Turkey Glaze mix
  • 1 cup apple juice
  • 1 pound bacon

Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a large saute pan set over medium heat. Add Brussels sprouts and onions, and saute until onions are cooked through and translucent.

Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, simmer seasoning mix with apple juice and remaining 2 tablespoons butter until it’s reduced by half, about 10 minutes.

Cut bacon into 1-inch chunks and cook to almost crisp. Drain on paper towels.

To assemble, thread one sprout, one onion slice and one bacon chunk onto skewers and brush generously with glaze. Finish under the broiler.

Serves 8.




Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes with Maple Icing/Gretchen McKay








Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes with Maple Frosting

PG tested

Not a fan of pumpkin desserts? These taste almost like gingerbread.

  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil, plus extra for greasing pan
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 cup canned pumpkin puree
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
  • Maple Frosting (recipe follows)
  • 1/2 cup coarsely chopped Heath bars, for serving

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Brush top of muffin pan with oil and line with 10 paper liners.

In medium bowl, sift together flour, baking powder and soda, spices and salt. In a larger bowl, whisk together eggs, pumpkin, sugars and 1/2 cup vegetable oil. Add the flour mixture and stir to combine.

Scoop batter into prepared tins. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool completely, spread cupcakes with frosting and sprinkle with chopped Heath bars.

Makes 10 cupcakes.

— “Barefoot Contessa Foolproof: Recipes You Can Trust” by Ina Garten (Clarkson Potter, Oct. 2012, $35)


Maple Frosting

PG tested

  • 6 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar

In a bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream all ingredients except sugar on medium-low speed until very smooth. With mixer on low, slowly add confectioners’ sugar and mix until smooth.

Frosts 10 cupcakes.


Mini Pumpkin-Maple Tarts/Gretchen McKay

Mini Pumpkin-Maple Tarts with Toasted Pecan Streusel

PG tested

Don’t skimp on the streusel topping — it’s so good, you might be tempted to eat it with a spoon.

For filling
  • 1 cup pure pumpkin puree
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • Pinch ground cloves
  • Pinch table salt
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
For dough
  • 1 package (7 ounces) premade pie dough
For streusel
  • 1/2 cup toasted pecans
  • 2 tablespoons firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Make filling by putting pumpkin puree, maple syrup, cinnamon, spices and salt in bowl. Whisk until well blended and smooth. Add egg and vanilla and whisk until just blended.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly grease 24 mini-muffin cups. Unroll pie dough on a very lightly floured surface. Using a 3 1/2-inch cutter, cut out 24 rounds, reusing gathered scraps.

Working with 1 round at a time, use your finger to gently press the dough into a prepared muffin cup, making sure there are no air bubbles in the bottom and that the dough is pressed firmly and evenly up the side to within 1/4 inch of the top. Repeat with remaining dough rounds.

Evenly spoon filling into lined muffin cups. Bake until crusts are golden brown and centers jiggle slightly when the pan is nudged, 27 to 29 minutes.

While tarts are baking, make streusel topping. Put pecans, brown sugar and cinnamon in a food processor. Pulse until nuts are finely ground. (Any leftovers are delicious on ice cream!)

Move muffin tin to a wire rack and let cool for 10 minutes. Using a thin metal spatula or tip of a paring knife, remove tarts from pan and set on wire rack. Serve warm or at room temperature. Just before serving, sprinkle tarts with pecan streusel.

Makes 24 mini tarts.

— “Mini Treats & Hand-Held Sweets” by Abigail Johnson Dodge (Taunton, Sept. 2012, $22.95)



Thanksgiving Turkey Strudels/Gretchen McKay








Thanksgiving Turkey Strudels

PG tested

I made these flaky strudels with ground turkey, but I think they would be even better with minced roasted turkey breast. Next time I’ll also throw in a few dried cranberries.

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 pound ground turkey
  • 1/3 cup diced cooked green beans
  • 1/3 cup diced cooked carrots
  • 1 1/2 cups prepared stuffing (I used Stove Top Turkey Stuffing mix)
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1/2 cup homemade or jarred turkey gravy
  • 6 tablespoons butter
  • 15 sheets phyllo dough, defrosted
  • Seasoned salt for garnish

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.

Heat oil in a medium saute pan. Add turkey, and cook over medium-high heat until meat is no longer pink, about 5 to 7 minutes. Add vegetables and cook for 2 additional minutes. Fold in prepared stuffing, season with salt and pepper. Add gravy, stir and set aside.

Melt butter in a small sauce pan. Unfold 1 sheet of phyllo dough on a board with a long edge facing you. Brush the sheet generously with melted butter. Repeat process, laying phyllo and butter until you have 5 sheets piled up.

Spoon 1/3 of the turkey mixture on the edge of the long side of the phyllo and roll the dough tightly around the meat, making sure the roll is even and round. Place on sheet pan with seam side down. Repeat process until all the turkey is used. Brush the tops and sides with melted butter and sprinkle with seasoned salt.

With a small sharp knife, score strudels diagonally at 11/2-inch intervals and bake for 12 to 15 minutes, until strudels are nicely browned. Slice along the scored lines and serve warm.

Serves 8 to 10.

— Adapted from “Barefoot Contessa Foolproof: Recipes You Can Trust” by Ina Garten (Clarkson Potter, Oct. 2012, $35)





A tiny bites Thanksgiving, Part 1

Turkey hand pies/Gretchen McKay


When you’re the holiday’s designated cook, and your extended family is large, Thanksgiving can be a very long day.

Up early to stuff and throw a 20-pound bird in the oven, there’s barely time to swallow a single cup of coffee before starting the slow and steady work of preparing the expected smorgasbord of Turkey Day pre-dinner munchies, side dishes, starches and desserts. And that’s just the cooking part of the holiday.

Depending on your interests, Thanksgiving might also include an early morning footrace (Pittsburgh’s 22nd annual PNC YMCA Turkey Trot 5K starts at 8:30 a.m. on Nov. 22), a neighborhood turkey bowl, volunteering at a local soup kitchen or homeless shelter, picking up a college student or adult child at the airport or Megabus drop-off stop, or a car trip across the city or state to visit friends or relatives. And don’t forget about the many football games on TV, and the time-consuming job of developing a plan for post-dinner Black Friday shopping.

By the time the turkey’s ready to be carved — well, who can blame you if you’re almost too tired to eat? Especially if the night before, you spent far too long at your local watering hole catching up with the people you went to high school with.

Maybe it’s time to come up with a different plan.

Instead of the traditional sit-down dinner with all the fancy trimmings, why not embrace one of the year’s hottest trends and prepare a feast of finger-friendly foods your family and invited guests can nosh on throughout the day, whenever the mood strikes?

Imagine: all the wonderful tastes of Thanksgiving served in bite-sized portions, without the need for a knife or fork. Turkey and stuffing. Potatoes and pastry. Green beans and bacon. Pumpkin and maple.

Even better, because all of the dishes offered below can be prepared ahead of time, there’s no need for the marathon cooking session. So instead of fretting over how to stir lumps out of the gravy while also mashing the potatoes while simultaneously carving the turkey and making sure there’s butter and cranberry sauce on the table, you can do the one thing you’ve always wanted to do at Thanksgiving dinner.

Relax and eat!


Turkey Hand Pies

PG tested

These grab-and-go hand pies are absolutely delicious, and the crust is easier than you might think, even for a cook with pastry issues. Feel free to substitute your favorite frozen mixed veggies. Just as good cold the next morning for breakfast as hot from the oven for lunch or dinner.

  • 2 tablespoons butter or olive oil
  • 1/4 cup chopped onion
  • 1 to 2 cups cooked, shredded turkey breast
  • 1/3 cup fresh or thawed frozen peas
  • 1/3 cup chopped, cooked carrot
  • Salt and pepper
  • Flaky Butter Crust (recipe follows)

In a large frying pan, melt 2 tablespoons butter or oil over medium heat. Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add turkey breast, peas and carrots. Cook, stirring with a wooden spoon or spatula, until vegetables are tender, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line 2 rimmed baking sheets with parchment.

Lightly flour a clean work surface. Remove half of dough from fridge, unwrap it and place on floured work surface, and flour the top lightly. Roll out dough into a rectangle that is roughly 9 by 12 inches. The dough should be about 1/2-inch thick.

Using a pastry wheel, trim off ragged edges. Then cut the dough into circles, squares or rectangles, as small or large as you like, saving the trimmings. Evenly divide half of the turkey filling on top of pastry circles, fold over and crimp the edges with a fork. (I made 8 rectangles.) Slash or prick each pie to vent steam.

Transfer pies to prepared baking sheet, spacing them about 1 inch apart. Refrigerate, uncovered, for at least 30 minutes or up to 2 hours. Repeat rolling, cutting, filling and crimping with the rest of the dough. Gather dough scraps from both halves, form into a ball and roll out to make more pastries.

When second baking sheet is ready, place first pan in oven and second in fridge. Place a baking rack over a sheet of parchment on your table or counter to catch sticky drips.

Bake pastries until they are golden brown on top (the sides will brown first), about 20 minutes.

Remove from oven and immediately (and carefully) move the pastries onto the baking rack, then slip the second baking sheet into the oven. Let pastries cool for at least 10 minutes before serving, but be sure to enjoy them warm.

Eat or freeze these pies the day they are made (can be frozen for up to 2 months). Reheat in a 375 degree oven for about 12 minutes.

Makes 10 to 12 hand pies.

— Adapted from “Handheld Pies” by Sarah Billingsley and Rachel Wharton (Chronicle, Jan. 2012, $19.95)


Garlic, Potato and Chive Cutie Pies

Garlic, Potato and Chive Cutie Pies/Gretchen McKay

PG tested

These bite-sized mashed potato pies will disappear almost as fast as you can pop them out of the muffin pan. For extra oomph, sprinkle with shredded Cheddar cheese before serving. Even better reheated the next day!

  • 4 to 5 medium redskin potatoes, chopped into 1-inch cubes
  • All-Butter Pie Crust (recipe follows)
  • 1 cup half-and-half
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 3 tablespoons fresh chopped chives (I used green onions), plus additional for garnish
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons garlic, finely diced
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper

To make filling, fill medium pot halfway with water and bring to a brisk boil. Add potatoes, cover and reduce heat to medium-high. Cook for 15 to 20 minutes, or until potatoes are fork tender.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place rack in center of oven. Spray cups of muffin pan with nonstick pan spray.

Roll out All-Butter Pie Crust dough. Cut 36 circles (I used a 2 1/2-inch cutter) from the dough. Reroll scraps to make all the circles, and avoid overhandling the dough.

Gently but firmly press each circle into a muffin cup. Fold, tuck and crimp edges.

Drain potatoes. Mash in a food processor, electric mixer or by hand with a potato masher. Gradually add half-and-half and sour cream. Mix well.

Add chives, garlic, salt and pepper, and continue to mash until smooth.

Spoon the filling into the Cutie Pie shells to about the top of muffin cup.

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until crust is golden and top starts to brown. If pie top is browning too quickly, cover with foil for final few minutes.

To serve, garnish with fresh chives.

Makes 36 Cutie Pies.

— “Cutie Pies: 40 Sweet, Savory and Adorable Recipes” by Dani Cone (Andrews McMeel, 2011, $16.99)


Green Beans in a Glass/Gretchen McKay












Green beans in a glass

PG tested

This sweet and buttery green bean recipe should even please the kids.

  • 1 1/2 pounds green beans, trimmed
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup real bacon pieces

Cook beans in a 6- to 8-quart pot of boiling salted water, uncovered, 6 to 8 minutes or until tender. Drain in a colander and immediately transfer to a bowl of ice water to stop cooking. When beans are cool, drain in a colander and pat dry.

Melt butter. Add brown sugar and bacon pieces to butter and mix thoroughly. Toss beans in the brown sugar and butter mixture. Serve in tall shot glasses.

Serves 8.



Sweet Potato Latkes

Sweet Potato Latkes/Gretchen McKay

PG tested

These are a nice alternative to the usual mashed or cinnamon-scented sweet potato casserole served at Thanksgiving.

  • 1 sweet potato, peeled and coarsely grated (about 1 1/2 cups)
  • 3 green onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 3 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 2/3 cup creme fraiche for garnish

Place sweet potato between 2 sheets of cheesecloth; grasp ends and twist to extract as much liquid as possible. (I used paper towels.)

In a large mixing bowl, toss drained sweet potatoes with green onions, shallot and garlic. Sprinkle flour over the mixture and fold to combine. Stir in egg until fully incorporated. Season with salt and pepper.

Warm oil in a cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Drop dollops of batter into the hot skillet and fry on each side for about 4 to 5 minutes, or until golden brown. Drain latkes on paper towels and season with salt and pepper. Top each latke with a small dollop of crème fraiche or serve it on the side as a dipping sauce. Serve warm.

Makes about 30 latkes.

— “Tiny Food Party!” Bite-size Recipes for Miniature Meals” by Teri Lyn Fisher & Jenny Park (Quirk, $18.95)


All-Butter Pie Crust

PG tested

  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cold, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 3/4 cup ice water

In a large bowl, combine flour, salt and sugar, and mix well.

Add butter to flour mixture and mix gently with pastry blender, a fork or your hands. The goal is to lightly incorporate the butter into the dry ingredients. The butter pieces should be well coated with the dry mixture and somewhat flattened.

Gradually add water to the flour mixture, 1 tablespoon at a time, and continue mixing dough until it comes together and forms pea-sized or crouton-sized crumbs. The dough should look like coarse individual pieces, not smooth and beaten together like cookie dough.

With your hands, gather dough crumbs together to form 2 patties, gently molding the mixture into a patty shape and being careful not to overhandle the dough. Wrap each patty in plastic wrap.

Chill dough for at least 1 hour or up to 3 days. The dough can also be frozen up to 2 weeks.

When ready to use dough, let it sit at room temperature for at least 10 minutes to soften it and make it workable. On a lightly floured surface, roll out each of the 2 dough patties to about 1/4-inch thickness, lightly dusting it with flour, to prevent sticking, and making sure to roll the dough evenly.

Makes 1 double-crust 9-inch pie, 2 single-crust 9-inch pies, 16 cutie pies or 36 mini muffin pies.


Flaky Butter Crust

PG tested

  • 1 cup cold unsalted butter
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3 to 5 tablespoons ice water

Cut butter into 1/2-inch cubes, and freeze them while you measure and mix the dry ingredients.

Combine flour, sugar and salt in a food processor and pulse 3 or 4 times to mix. Retrieve the butter cubes from freezer, scatter them over the flour mixture and pulse until mixture forms pea-sized clumps. Add ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time, and pulse to mix, adding just enough water for dough to come together. (You also can make the pastry by hand or by using a pastry blender.)

Turn dough out onto a clean, floured work surface. Gather dough in a mound, then knead it a few times to smooth out. Divide in half, and gently pat and press each half into a rough rectangle, circle or square about 1-inch thick. Wrap in plastic wrap or parchment paper and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to 3 days.






Crazy about pumpkin

Spicy pumpkin seeds/Gretchen McKay


Is it just me, or is pumpkin taking over?

I was fine with seasonal pumpkin products such as pumpkin bread and pumpkin roll.

But these days, you can find its distinctive autumnal flavor in just about everything from drinks to granola bars to pasta to ice cream, and the orange tide keeps rising. Even Pringles has joined in the Great American Pumpkin Party, including in its new lineup of limited-edition holiday season flavors a Pumpkin Pie Spice chip.

Enough already!

Some of these pumpkin-powered supermarket foods and menu items make perfect sense, such as the seasonal pumpkin brews being poured through about Thanksgiving at local bars and restaurants. (See Bob Batz Jr.’s Beer Column.) I’m also developing a taste for the pumpkin-spiced coffees being brewed, also for a limited time, at chains such as Dunkin’ Donuts and Starbucks, especially when it’s paired with a decadent pumpkin loaf or a pumpkin and walnut biscotti from Enrico’s in the Strip District. A toasted pumpkin bagel stuffed with sweet and creamy pumpkin cream cheese (think pumpkin mousse) might sound like too much of a good thing, but trust me, it’s a customer favorite at Bruegger’s 300-plus U.S. locations for a reason — and not just for breakfast.

“If you haven’t tried it, you should,” my running buddy Andrea Facebooked after having said treat for an afternoon snack. “And if there’s any cream cheese left . . . it’s worthy of eating with your knife.”

Just thinking of it makes me hungry!

But do we really need pumpkin-flavored dog treats, or nonfat Greek pumpkin yogurt, just two of the 20-plus “Pumpkin Season specialties” advertised in Trader Joe’s Fearless Flying brochure for October?

Below, we offer a few more of the season’s best pumpkin-flavored offerings worth the calories, along with a couple that might have been better left in the pumpkin patch.

Morning carbs

Pumpkin and walnut biscotti from Enrico Biscotti in Pittsburgh’s Strip District/Gretchen McKay

Pancakes are good anytime of year, but they’re especially tasty when the batter includes pumpkin blended with cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger. DeLuca’s Diner in the Strip and Eggs N’at in Moon are just two of the many local diners and restaurants that put pumpkin hotcakes on the menu each fall, and they’re delicious, with or without maple syrup. DeLuca’s also has pumpkin pie crepes as well as a pumpkin hotcake sundae, which pairs pumpkin ice cream with a cream cheese glaze.

If you’d rather wake up to a bagel, Brueggers, Einsteins and Panera Bread all feature pumpkin varieties this time of year. So does muffin-maker Thomas’, though its Pumpkin Spice bagels and bagel thins are a far cry from the chewy-on-the-outside, fluffy-on-the-inside taste you love in a fresh bagel hot out of the oven. It also has a Pumpkin Spice English Muffin. Pepperidge Farms, meanwhile, celebrates fall with its seasonal Pumpkin Spice Swirl bread. The “swirl” being pumpkin puree, this bread is best toasted, with plenty of butter. It’d also make an awesome base for French Toast.

Not to be outdone at the breakfast table is Kelloggs, whose Frosted Pumpkin Pie Pop-Tart is sure to be a hit either with kids or adults whose taste buds never grew up. A better option is Pumpkin Spice Eggo waffles, part of its “Seasons” line of specialty waffles. A little butter and a drizzle of syrup, and you’re ready to go.

Pumpkin beverages

Probably the signature seasonal pumpkin drink is Starbucks’ Pumpkin Spice Latte, a frothy coffee drink topped with sweetened whipped cream that has so many fans, local franchises occasionally run out of the special pumpkin syrup used to make it. That’s right, there’s no actual pumpkin in the product, though there are plenty of calories — 380 in a 16-ounce “grande.” Starbucks is to introduce Pumpkin Spice Latte ice cream in stores Nov. 1. Nipping at the coffee giant’s heel is Dunkin’ Donuts, which earlier this month launched Pumpkin Mocha and Pumpkin White Chocolate coffee and lattes, in addition to its Pumpkin Spice ground coffee. Brueggers has a pumpkin brew, too.

For those who’d rather make and (artificially) flavor coffee at home, there’s Coffee-mate Pumpkin non-dairy creamer and International Delight’s Pumpkin Spice Coffee Creamer.

Courting tea lovers is Bigelow Tea, whose collection of seasonal holiday tea bags includes Pumpkin Spice Tea. It’s blended using black tea and natural pumpkin flavors with cinnamon, licorice root, cloves and ginger. Slightly spicy and wonderfully aromatic, it’s perfect for sipping before bed. Plus, no calories.

I wish I could say the same for another fan favorite: Dairy Queen’s Pumpkin Pie Blizzard (Blizzard of the Month for October). My daughters, who work there, say one out of every three customers orders one of these thick ice cream treats, which are made by blending vanilla soft serve, Libby’s Pumpkin Pie Mix and pie crust “chips.” Garnished with whipped cream and a sprinkle of nutmeg, it’s a button-popper in the making, with a whopping 570 calories in a small serving.

For me, the better splurge was the Pumpkin Pie Margarita at Mad Mex, which has a taste reminiscent of hard apple cider. I was skeptical anyone could combine tequila with pumpkin with good results, but the frozen concoction was surprisingly delicious.

And more pumpkin

Pumpkin also is making its way into staples such as salsa, pasta, snacks and spreads. My oldest son is a huge fan of Trader Joe’s pumpkin butter, which you can slather on cake or toast, stir into yogurt or oatmeal or spoon with peanut butter into a sandwich. Another of my running buddies loves the Spiced Pumpkin Salsa at Aldi, but I have to say, I’m suspect.

At Triple B Farms in Monongahela, you can find Pumpkin Spice Lasagna Noodles and Fettucine; Pennsylvania Macaroni has pumpkin tortellini imported from Italy. At Crested Duck in Beechview, Kevin Costa has been sneaking the veggie into sausage.

For sweeter tastes, Kraft devised Jet-Puffed Pumpkin Spice Mallows, perfect for a autumnal Rice Krispie Treat. Hershey’s wraps the flavor in chocolate, in a Pumpkin Spice Kiss.

Oh, I almost forgot: Pringles’ Pumpkin Pie Spice potato chips. The limited-edition flavor, which debuts next month at Wal-Mart, is not as weird as the White Chocolate Peppermint chip that’s arriving with it.

If you haven’t satisfied your yen for pumpkins with all those seasonal dishes, Glade now has come out with a new air freshener for fall. With the Maple Pumpkin scent, your house can smell like “maple syrup and newly harvested pumpkins.”


Sweet and Spicy Pumpkin Seeds

Sweetly spicy, with a lick of fire and the light crunch of toasted seeds and caramelized sugar: I’d like tons of these with a hoppy beer. Or a spoonful on my pumpkin soup, bowl of chili or roasted squash. Just remember the seeds need an hour’s drying in a low oven before combining with flavorings.

— Virginia Phillips

  • 1 medium pumpkin
  • 5 tablespoons sugar, divided
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • Pinch cayenne, or to your taste (I used a couple of large pinches)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons peanut oil (I used canola)

Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper (I did not use).

Cut pumpkin open from top to bottom and remove seeds with a long-handled spoon. You’ll be able to scrape about a cup of seeds from a medium (5 to 7 pound) pumpkin. (Fresh seeds are not to be confused with the already hulled pumpkin seeds, which are green, smaller and sold pre-packaged in stores.) In a bowl of water, separate seeds from the squash gunk and blot on a tea towel. On a baking sheet bake the seeds until completely dry, 45 minutes to an hour. They’ll darken to a crunchy ruddy gold.

In a medium bowl combine 3 tablespoons sugar, salt, cumin, cinnamon, ginger and cayenne. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over high heat. Add seeds and remaining 2 tablespoons sugar. Cook until sugar melts and pumpkin seeds begin to caramelize, about 45 to 60 seconds. Transfer to bowl with spices, and stir well to coat. Let cool. These may be stored in an airtight container for at least a week.

Makes about a cup.

— Adapted from 2012 Martha Stewart Living


Eight O’Clock’s Gr8 Pumpkin Coffee

It doesn’t get much easier than this.

— Gretchen McKay

  • 4 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
  • 6 tablespoons Eight O’Clock Original ground coffee (enough for 1 full pot)
  • Milk or half-and-half
  • Sugar

Combine pumpkin pie spice and coffee grounds in coffee filter, brew. Add milk or half & half and sugar to taste (you control the sweetness, unlike at a coffee shop).

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

— Eight O’Clock Coffee


Pumpkin biscuits

PG tested

B. Smith says the secret to great biscuits is to use chilled butter or shortening. We liked these served as an accompaniment to a warm bowl of soup on a chilly fall day.

— Rebecca Sodergren

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 4 tablespoons chilled butter or shortening, cut into pieces
  • 1/2 cup canned pumpkin puree
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

In a food processor fitted with the metal blade, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add the butter or shortening and pulse briefly, just until it is the texture of coarse meal. Add the pumpkin and buttermilk to the flour mixture. Pulse just until the dough is soft and easy to handle. Do not overprocess, or biscuits will be tough.

Turn the dough onto a lightly floured work surface. Knead the dough gently until smooth. Roll it out to 1/2-inch thickness, sprinkling more flour on the work surface as necessary to prevent sticking, and cut the dough into rounds with a 2-inch biscuit cutter or the top of a 2-inch glass. Scraps can be rerolled and cut into more rounds.

Place the biscuits on a lightly greased baking sheet. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, or until lightly browned. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Makes about 1 dozen.

— “B. Smith Cooks Southern-Style” by Barbara Smith (Scribner, 2009)

“Eat & Run”: Scott Jurek is one ultra-amazing vegan athlete

Vegan dishes like this Indonesian Cabbage Salad with Red Thai Curry help fuel ultramarathoner Scott Jurek’s long runs. Gretchen McKay/Post-Gazette


Endurance athlete Scott Jurek has run, and won, some of the world’s longest and most physically demanding races, including the Badwater 135-mile ultramarathon through Death Valley, where the temperature can slide past 120 degrees even in the shade; the Spartathlon, a 153-mile foot race that traces Greek messenger Pheidippides’ historic run in 490 B.C. from Athens to Sparta; and California’s rugged 100-mile Western States Endurance Run, which he won a record seven times in a row. Yet as he concludes in his winning new memoir, “Eat & Run: My Unlikely Journey to Ultramarathon Greatness,” what matters more than victory is what you do to reach it, and how.

“No one wants to win more than I do,” he writes about the grueling sport of ultrarunning, a niche but increasingly popular sport in which he’s become a superstar. “What I’ve learned in ultras, though, is that where I finish is merely an outcome. Have I prepared? Am I focused?” And, perhaps most importantly, “Have I pushed myself as far, and as hard, as possible?”

As you learn in Mr. Jurek’s introspective and at times painfully honest book, the answer is a resounding “yes.”

Page 1 finds the Minnesota-born athlete 70 miles into his first Badwater, vomiting his guts out on the side of the road, certain he can’t take another single step let alone keep running 65 miles in the soul-sucking heat. But “quit” is not in this 38-year-old runner’s vocabulary.

He not only powers through the pain, but does so in record time, winning the race in 24 hours and 36 minutes. Even more amazing, and the focus of much of the book, is that he did it on a vegan diet.

Mr. Jurek’s deep connection with food started early, albeit in a different direction. Midwesterners are known for their love of hunting and fishing, and he learned both at a young age, along with what to do with the spoils. His mother developed multiple sclerosis when he was in elementary school, requiring him to take on many of the household chores, including cooking. His disciplinarian father, who had to work two jobs to make ends meet, wasn’t the type to listen to complaints.

“Sometimes you just do things” became his mantra.

It wasn’t until high school, we learn, that he started running, not so much as an escape but as a way to build up his endurance for the high school cross-country ski team.

In college, he discovered he had a talent for chugging monster distances of up to four hours. In 1994, he ran his first ultra with his friend and training partner Dusty Olson, the Minnesota Voyageur 50, and finished second. And a side career to his job as a physical therapist was born.

Books about nutrition can be boring, but Mr. Jurek is a talented storyteller, weaving his discovery of the vegan lifestyle into an inspiring tale of how a skinny, poor kid who had everything stacked against him — including a mother who couldn’t walk for most of his life — learned not just to adapt, but to draw strength from life’s difficulties.

Drive, ambition, dedication — Mr. Jurek reveals he has all of that in spades, along with a single-mindedness about running that’s sometimes hard to believe and just might make weekend runners feel like total slackers. (In 2007, he ran, and won, a 100-miler on a sprained ankle and he did the same in an even longer race in Greece with a broken toe. Seriously.)

With his breezy prose, Mr. Jurek — a sought-after motivational speaker — at times can seem somewhat simplistic as a natural-born athlete with an almost freakish ability. But that’s also what makes the book such a fascinating (and fun) read.

He also appears to be a pretty good plant-based cook, which is encouraging for those trying to eat more vegetables and whole grains. He gave up meat in 1997 and became vegan two years later.

Experienced runners might wish he had included more of the dirty details of running ultras. For instance, do you really get blisters in places you can’t fathom, and how many miles must you log before your toenails fall off? It’s also disappointingly short on his supporting role in 2009’s best-selling “Born to Run,” which detailed the 50-mile race Mr. Jurek ran with the elusive Tarahumara tribe in Mexico’s Copper Canyon in 2006 — an event that significantly raised his profile among non-runners. (He devotes fewer than 10 pages to the race.)

Still, there’s plenty of dish for people who want to know more about the sport of ultramarathoning. Each of the 22 chapters ends with a favorite plant-based recipe, and peppered throughout are nutritional tidbits and studies. The book also includes practical training and technique tips, the biggest of which is this: You can be serious about your running, and have to be if you want to succeed, but don’t take yourself too seriously.

“Racing ultras,” he says, “requires absolute confidence tempered with intense humility.”


Indonesian Cabbage Salad with Red Curry Almond Sauce

  • 1/2 head green cabbage, coarsely shredded
  • 4 stalks bok choy or 1 head baby bok choy, sliced into 1/4-inch pieces
  • 1 carrot, peeled and cut into thin rounds
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into 2-inch-long thin strips
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1/2 cup raw sunflower seeds
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup Red Curry Almond Sauce, recipe at right

Toss all ingredients to combine and let sit for 10 to 20 minutes or more before serving.

Makes 6 to 8 side-dish servings.

This easy vegan dish is one of ultramarathoner Scott Jurek’s favorite dishes.

Red Curry Almond Sauce

  • 1/2 cup almond butter
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/4 cup fresh lime juice or rice vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons miso
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh cilantro
  • 2 tablespoons agave nectar or maple syrup
  • 2 teaspoons Thai red curry paste, or to taste
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

Combine all ingredients in a small mixing bowl or blender. Mix well until smooth.

Keeps refrigerated for 2 weeks or frozen for several months.

— “Eat & Run” by Scott Jurek with Steve Friedman (Houghton Mifflin, June 2012, $26)

Quinoa: A high-octane fuel for hungry runners

The food of the Incas, quinoa is considered a "superfood" because it's so nutritious/Gretchen McKay




This time of year when so many are obsessing about eating less in an effort to fit into warm-weather shorts and bathing suits, it’s all I can do not to think about food and how much of it I can possibly stuff in my mouth. Spring ushers in the start of racing season — the city’s biggest running event, the Pittsburgh Marathon, is May 6 — and with it, the long weekend training runs that make my fellow distance runners and me feel so very hungry.

This year, a record-breaking 25,000 have signed up for the city’s full and half marathons, the majority of them (56 percent) women. That means there’s a whole bunch of people rooting around in their refrigerators and pantries looking for something tasty with which to fuel and refuel their hard-working bodies.

Pasta and other high-carb foods are obvious choices in the weeks leading up to an endurance event such as a marathon to assure adequate stores of glycogen, the muscle’s primary fuel source during exercise. But runners need protein, too, to help build and repair muscles, along with fat and fiber to keep them regular during training. And don’t forget lots (and lots) of water.

In other words, that power bar that hits the spot so perfectly after a morning on the trails ain’t gonna cut it over the long run.

It’s time to get your game on with a one-stop food that’s not just super delicious, but also super nutritious: quinoa.

A member of the goosefoot family, which include beets, spinach and chard, quinoa (pronounced “keen-wah”) has been nourishing people for thousands of years. It was particularly revered by the ancient Incas, who considered the sacred seed grown in South America’s Andean mountain region chisaya mama, or the “mother of all grains.” It was so prized, in fact, that leaders planted the first seeds each season using a golden shovel and planned celebrations around the harvest, write Jessica Harlan and Kelley Sparwasser in “Quinoa Cuisine” (Ulysses, March 2012, $16.95).

Spanish explorers who conquered the Incas in the 16th century destroyed the fields in which the plant was grown along with the rest of their civilization, and as a result, quinoa — declared illegal — almost disappeared from Andean dinner tables. Even after those South American countries won their independence in the 1820s, and the plant again could be freely grown, its comeback was slow. Only the poor and provincial fed it to their families.

Introduced commercially to Americans in the 1980s, quinoa is still relatively unknown in many home kitchens. Which is unfortunate, because few foods can match the seed’s nutritional profile.

You name it, quinoa’s got it. It’s a complete protein that contains all eight essential amino acids, it also is rich in calcium, iron, fiber and potassium, and is an excellent source of folate, magnesium, vitamin B6, thiamin, niacin, potassium, and riboflavin. And all for 222 calories a cup.

Quinoa also is gluten-free, so it’s a good choice for people with celiac disease or those who are sensitive to gluten, wheat and other grass-based food products.

If that doesn’t sell you on the food, consider this:

Because it’s higher in protein and fiber than corn or wheat (the germ in its seeds makes up about 60 percent of the grain), quinoa will help you feel fuller longer. So you may actually end up eating less. Well, theoretically, at least, because once you try it, you’re going to find that you like it, even in recipes as disparate as chili, lasagna and cookies, as my family discovered.

Quinoa is prepared much like rice or pearled barley in about 15 minutes — you can boil it, cook it in a rice cooker, bake or microwave it, using one part grain to two parts liquid — but the results are crunchier and nuttier tasting. It comes in four colors with varying flavors — white, which is the most common, mildest and cheapest; slightly nuttier-tasting red; black, which has the earthiest flavor and a seedlike crunchiness; and tri-color (also called rainbow), which is a mix of all three.

It’s not your cheapest grain — I paid $3.99 per pound for bulk white quinoa at Giant Eagle Market District Robinson, and $8.99 for a 16-ounce bag of Eden organic red quinoa — but keep in mind that it triples in volume when cooked. Though it’s harder to find, some stores also carry quinoa flakes — good as a substitute for oatmeal or breadcrumbs — and quinoa flour.

Often served as a side dish (it makes for a wonderful pilaf, especially when paired with fruit and nuts), cooked quinoa also can headline a meal in soups, chili, stir-fries, casseroles, stews and salads. Surprisingly, it’s also a great addition to baked goods and desserts. For instance, I subbed cooked red quinoa for dried cranberries in a batch of chocolate chip cookies with pretty good results.

Whatever you plan on stirring quinoa into, make sure you rinse the seeds under cool running water before cooking them, to remove any traces of a bitter coating called saponin that might have escaped manufacturers’ pre-washing. Store quinoa like other grains, in a tightly closed container in a dry, cool place.

The following dishes will help you fuel up for your long training runs, or bring your weary body back to life after you’ve put in the miles.

Gretchen McKay








Two-bean quinoa chili

PG tested

I couldn’t find black quinoa so substituted red.

  • 1/2 cup black quinoa, rinsed
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 1 medium clove garlic, minced
  • 3/4 pound ground turkey or chicken
  • 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes (preferably fire-roasted)
  • 15-ounce can kidney beans, rinsed and drained
  • 15-ounce can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder, or to taste
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons dried Mexican oregano

Chili “fixings” such as shredded cheese, sliced green onions, sour cream

In a small saucepan over high heat, bring quinoa and water to a boil, then reduce heat to low, cover and cook until water has been absorbed and the quinoa is tender, 18 to 20 minutes. Turn off heat and let quinoa sit for 5 minutes. Fluff with fork, cover and keep warm.

In a large heavy pot, such as a Dutch oven, heat canola oil over medium heat. Add onion and saute, stirring occasionally, until transluscent and beginning to brown, 7 to 9 minutes. Add garlic and saute, stirring constantly, for 30 seconds. Add turkey or chicken and cook, stirring frequently and breaking up the meat into small chunks, until meat is cooked, about 5 minutes.

Add tomaotes and their juices, kidney beans, black beans, cumin, chili powder, salt and oregano. Bring to simmer over high heat, then reduce heat to medium low and simmer, uncovered, for about 10 minutes to allow flavors to meld.

Stir in cooked quinoa and simmer until quinoa is heated through, about 5 minutes longer. Serve hot in bowls, letting each person garnish their chili with the fixings of their choice. Serves 6.

— “Quinoa Cuisine: 150 Creative Recipes for Super-Nutritious, Amazingly Delicious Dishes” by Jessica Harlan & Kelley Sparwasser (Ulysses Press, March 2012, $16.95)

Gretchen McKay








Quinoa Lasagna

PG tested

This creamy pasta dish is made with bechamel, a white sauce of cream and butter, so it’s not necessarily low-cal. But it tasted great.

  • 1/2 pound lasagna noodles, cooked according to package
  • 1 cup cooked quinoa
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 small carrot, chopped
  • 1 stalk celery, chopped
  • 1/2 pound ground chicken
  • 1 cup diced canned tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons flour or cornstarch
  • 2 cups cream
  • 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

Set aside cooked lasagna noodles and cooked quinoa.

Heat vegetable oil in a medium saucepan and saute onion, carrot and celery until tender, about 4 minutes. Add the ground chicken and brown, stirring, breaking it up into chunks. Add tomatoes and sugar, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Simmer for 25 minutes, or until meat is cooked through.

In the meantime, make a quick bechamel sauce by making a roux with the butter and flour. Cook for 2 minutes and whisk in cream. Season with nutmeg, salt and pepper.

When the meat sauce is cooked, fold in the cooked quinoa.

To assemble, grease a loaf pan with butter or oil. Cover bottom of the pan with 2 tablespoons of bechamel sauce. Layer with a strip of pasta noodle and then top with meat-quinoa sauce. Drizzle bechamel over meat-quinoa sauce, and repeat layer(s) of pasta and sauce. Finish with bechamel sauce and shredded mozzarella cheese.

Bake at 400 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes, or until cheese and bechamel sauce are browned. Serve with a salad of greens and crusty bread.

Serves 4.

— Adapted from

Gretchen McKay








Spicy Tropical Fruit Salad

PG tested

This easy salad would be delicious with a variety of fresh fruits, too.

  • 1 cup white quinoa, rinsed
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 medium oranges, segmented, juice reserved
  • 2 tablespoons diced dried apricots
  • 2 tablespoons golden raisins
  • 1/4 cup chopped dates
  • 1/2 cup chopped dried pineapple
  • 1/3 cup chopped hazelnuts
  • 1 cup cubed jicama
  • 1 small banana, peeled and chopped
  • 2 tablespoons frozen pineapple juice concentrate, thawed
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 tablespoon spiced rum (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgina olive oil
  • Kosher salt and black pepper

1/4 cup diced fresh herbs, such as chives, mint or basil

In a medium saucepan over high heat, bring quinoa and water to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and cook until water has been absorbed and quinoa is tender, 10 to 12 minutes. Turn off heat and let quinoa sit for 5 minutes. Fluff with fork and allow to cool.

Place orange segments in a medium bowl and the orange juice in a small bowl (you should have about 1 tablespoon). To the orange segments add cooked quinoa, dried appricots, raisins, dates, dried pineapple, hazelnuts, jicama and banana, and stir to combine.

To the bowl with orange juice add the pineapple juice concentrate, honey, spiced rum (if using) and chili powder, and whisk to combine. Slowly add olive oil while continually whisking to emulsify the dressing. Add dressing to quinoa-fruit mixture, stirring to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Refrigerate until cold. Just before serving, garnish with fresh herbs.

Serves 4 to 6.

— “Quinoa Cuisine: 150 Creative Recipes for Super-Nutritious, Amazingly Delicious Dishes” by Jessica Harlan & Kelley Sparwasser (Ulysses Press, March 2012, $16.95)


Almond Chocolate-Chip Quinoa Cookies

PG tested

Who knew you could fold quinoa into cookies, and not have your family gag? I’m guessing it’s because I substiuted chocolate chips for the craisins in the original recipe.

  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup (packed) light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanillla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 cup cooked quinoa, cooled
  • 1 cup old-fashioned oats
  • 1 cup chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup slivered unsalted almonds

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Whisk flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda in a medium bowl. Using electric mixer, beat butter, both sugars and honey in a large bowl until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add eggs and extracts; beat until pale and fluffy, about 2 mintues. Beat in flour mixture, 1/2 cup at a time. Stir in quinoa, oats, chocolate chips and almonds. Spoon dough in 2-tablespoon portions onto prepared sheets, spacing 1 inch apart.

Bake cookies until golden, 12 to 15 minutes. Transfer cookies to a wire rack and let cool. Store cooled cookies in an airtight container at room temperature for 1 day or freeze for up to 1 month.

Makes about 3 dozen cookies.

— Adapted from