Gretchen McKay

Up your tailgating game by building a better burger

From left: Tomato Jam, Pickled Red Onions, Sparky Corn Relish, and Slow-Roasted Heirloom Cherry Tomatoes. Pam Panchek/Post-Gazette



For the football fan who cooks, tailgates are a beautiful thing.

Unlike other parties where the host feels a lot of pressure to impress, this pre-game festivity can be as fancy or down-home casual as the cook likes or has time for on any given Saturday or Sunday during football season. So long as the conversation and cold bee are flowing, and there’s plenty of great-tasting food to nosh on while you critique the competition, the gathering can’t help but to be a hit.

That said, you still have to come up with a menu that travels well and doesn’t require a ton of work once you hit the stadium parking lot. Not to mention lends itself to eating while standing up in crowded quarters.

Enter the not-so-humble hamburger.

Smothered under a variety of toppings and condiments or nearly naked on the bun, with just a squirt of Heinz ketchup separating meat from bread, burgers are a traditional gameday favorite for Black ‘n’ Gold tailgaters. In fact, it’s hard to imagine a kick-off at Heinz Field that isn’t preceded by the wonderful smell of meat patties sizzling on the grill in the parking lot.

This season, we’d like to help you build an even better burger, with some fresh takes on the standard components. All of them can easily be made ahead with just a few simple ingredients. A few can do double duty, serving as side dishes for bigger appetites or as a tasty dip for chips and/or sliced veggies.

If only making it to the Super Bowl were so easy!

At the heart of every great burger is the patty, so pay attention when it comes to buying the meat. With ground beef, an 80/20 blend of lean to fat is best, says Jim Calato of City Gourmet Catering, which operates the City Deli in the basement of the Koppers Building at Seventh and Grant streets, Downtown; any more fat, and you not only stand a good chance of flare-up during grilling, but also the burger will shrink well beyond the size of the bun.

Tempting as it might be to make and freeze the burgers in advance, the best burgers, says Mr. Calato, are those made fresh right before cooking. “Ice crystals compromise the quality of the meat,” he says. Even more important is a light touch. Overworking the meat when shaping it into patties is a recipe for dense, dry disaster.

For even cooking, make the center of the patty thinner than the edges, as burgers plump when you cook ’em. A little salt sprinkled on the outside will make for an extra-crispy crust.

One way to immediately up your burger game is to experiment with different meats. Below, we offer two patties that go beyond the traditional beef blend. To make them even more tailgate friendly (i.e., easy to balance in one hand) consider shaping them into 3-ounce sliders and serving them on dinner-sized rolls or brioche.

Instead of that . . . traditional beef burger


Pam Panchek/Post-Gazette








Chorizo Burger

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Don’t worry if you can’t find chorizo in bulk — I simply cut the casings off chorizo links. Add the wine a little at a time to prevent it from getting too soupy.

  • 1 pound chorizo sausage
  • 1 1/2 pounds ground beef
  • 3/4 cup red wine

Mix ingredients together in large bowl. Form meat into 8 individual patties. Place burgers on a hot grill, and cook until desired doneness, about 10 to 12 minutes.

Serve burgers topped with provolone cheese, fried onions, lettuce and chipotle mayonnaise (2 cups mayonnaise blended with 1 tablespoon chopped chipotle peppers in adobo sauce).

Makes 8 burgers.

— Jim Calato, City Gourmet Group


Buffalo Turkey Burgers

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These lean turkey burgers from Rachael Ray’s new “The Book of Burger” will appeal to the non-beef eaters in the crowd. Rachael likes to fry them on a flat-top griddle or cast-iron pan (it creates a crispier crust), but you also can cook them on a grill. A little blue cheese sauce on the top (recipe below) and you’re good to go.

  • 1 1/2 pounds ground turkey breast
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons poultry seasoning
  • 1 tablespoon grill seasoning
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 4 scallions, whites and greens, finely chopped
  • 1 rib celery, from the heart, finely chopped
  • Vegetable oil, for drizzling
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/4 cup hot sauce (such as Frank’s)

In a large bowl, combine first 6 ingredients. Mix thoroughly. Score into 4 equal portions and form them into patties slightly thinner at the center than at the edges for even cooking and to ensure a flat surface (burgers plump as they cook). Drizzle the patties with oil.

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Cook burgers, flipping once, 10 to 12 minutes, or until the juices run clear. Remove to a plate. Wipe pan clean and reduce heat to low. Melt butter in pan and stir in hot sauce. Return the burgers to the skillet and turn to coat in the hot sauce-butter mixture.

Makes 4 burgers.

— “The Book of Burger” by Rachael Ray (Atria, June 2012, $24.99)


Instead of that . . . squirt of Heinz ketchup

Tomato Jam

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Don’t worry about skinning or seeding the tomatoes in this simple jam recipe — they give the final product texture. A savory substitution for ketchup, the jam also tastes delicious slathered inside a grilled cheese sandwich or dolloped on top of meatloaf.

  • 1 1/2 pounds good ripe tomatoes (Roma are best), cored and coarsely chopped
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon grated or minced fresh ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 jalapeno or other pepper, stemmed, seeded and minced, or red pepper flakes or cayenne to taste

Combine all ingredients in a heavy medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring often. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until mixture has consistency of thick jam, about 1 hour 15 minutes.

Taste and adjust seasoning, then cool and refrigerate until ready to use; this will keep at least a week.

Makes about 1 pint.

— Mark Bittman, The New York Times


Slow-Roasted Heirloom Tomatoes

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Barbecue isn’t the only thing that benefits from slow and low cooking. This super-simple preparation brings out the tomatoes natural sweetness. The balsamic syrup is addictive.

  • 1 1/2 pounds heirloom cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 8 small shallots, peeled
  • 6 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt
  • 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons agave syrup (I substituted maple syrup)
  • 1 stem fresh rosemary
  • 1/2 cup dried bread crumbs, toasted (optional)

Preheat oven to 225 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper and place tomatoes, cut-side up, on the pan. Sprinkle shallots and garlic around the tomatoes. Drizzle them with oil and sprinkle with a pinch of salt. Roast until tomatoes are shrunken and sweet, about 2 hours, switching the pan positions after an hour. Transfer them and any juices on the pan to a medium bowl.

In a small saucepan, combine vinegar, agave syrup and rosemary and bring to a boil. Cook for about 5 minutes over medium heat, until liquids reduce to 1/4 cup and form a thick syrup. Remove rosemary with a fork and season the syrup with a pinch of salt.

Toss tomatoes with bread crumbs to soak up the juices, if desired. Drizzle the syrup over the tomatoes and serve.

Makes about 1 cup of roasted tomatoes.

— “Big Vegan” by Robin Asbell (Chronicle, 2011)


Instead of that . . . dill pickle spear

Homemade Bread-and-butter pickles

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These are for sweet pickle lovers.

  • 1 pound cucumbers, sliced 1/4-inch thick (“pickling” or kirby cucumbers work best)
  • 1 large sweet onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup kosher salt
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup distilled white vinegar
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1 tablespoon mustard seeds
  • 1 tablespoon coriander seeds (if ground, use 1 teaspoon)
  • 1/4 teaspoon celery seed

In a medium bowl, combine the cucumbers, onion and salt. Mix well. Cover the mixture with ice. Let stand at room temperature for two hours. In a pot, bring sugar, vinegar and spices to a boil. Rinse cucumbers and onions with water and drain well. Add to vinegar mixture and bring almost back to a boil. Remove from heat and cool. You can store the pickles in an airtight container for up to three weeks in the fridge. They will begin tasting pickled in just a couple hours.

Makes about 4 cups pickles, filling a 1-quart jar



Sparky Corn Relish

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You don’t have to be vegan, or even vegetarian, to love this tangy corn relish. Spoon the leftovers onto grilled hot dogs, or use it to add kick to Mexican or Tex-Mex cuisine. You also could stir it into corn bread.

  • 1/3 cup cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 1/2 cups corn kernels, fresh or frozen
  • 1/4 cup diced red onion
  • 1/4 cup diced and seeded red and green bell peppers

In a medium-sized saucepan, combine vinegar, sugar, mustard and turmeric. Bring to a slow boil over medium heat. Add corn, onion and bell pepper and simmer for 5 minutes. Serve hot, cold or at room temperature.

Makes 11/2 cups.

— “Grilling Vegan Style” by John Schlimm (DaCapo, May 2012, $20)


Instead of that . . . leaf of iceberg lettuce

Apple-Lime-Cilantro Slaw

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This slaw pairs well with a turkey or chicken burger.

  • 2 Granny Smith apples, cored with the skin on
  • Zest and juice of 2 limes
  • 1 small head of savoy cabbage, shredded
  • 4 scallions, chopped
  • 1/2 bunch cilantro, rough cut
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
  • Salt and pepper

Core apples and cut into matchsticks. Coat with lime juice. Toss in a bowl with cabbage, scallions, lime zest and cilantro.

Make dressing by combining mayonnaise, sour cream, remaining lime juice and sugar. Add salt and pepper to taste. Coat slaw with dressing.

Serves 6 to 8.

— Jim Calato, City Gourmet Group


Frisee salad

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Don’t let the slightly bitter taste of frisee (curly leaf endive) put you off — when paired with salty bacon, it is nothing short of divine.

  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 thinly sliced shallot
  • 2 tablespoons bacon drippings
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 bunch frisee, washed and torn

Whisk together mustard, olive oil, shallot and bacon drippings. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add frisee. Makes enough for 4 to 6 burgers.

— Food Network Magazine


Homemade Bread-and-Butter Pickles and Frisee Salad. Pam Panchek/Post-Gazette
Instead of that . . . slice of raw onion

Grilled Green-Onion Mayonnaise

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This easy mayo will keep in the fridge for up to 3 days, and has a nice, slightly charred flavor. Also tasty on fish sandwiches.

  • 8 green onions, scallions or small bulb onions
  • Olive oil, for brushing
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/3 cup mayonnaise
  • Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh basil

Prepare a medium-hot grill. Place a perforated grill rack over the grill grate. Brush the onions with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.

Place scallions on the perforated grill rack and grill, turning every minute or so, until the onions get good grill marks. Let cool.

Chop the onions and combine with mayonnaise, lemon zest, lemon juice and basil until well blended. Serve right away or cover and refrigerate for up to 3 days.

Makes about 2/3 cup.

— “The Gardener & The Grill: The Bounty of the Garden Meets the Sizzle of the Grill” by Karen Adler and Judith Fertig (Running Press, May 2012, $20)


Pickled Red Onions

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This tart burger topping take just 5 minutes to prepare, but the flavor is boundless. Stir the onions into potato salad, layer them in quesadillas, sprinkle them on salad greens or use them as a garnish for hors d’oeuvres.

  • 1/3 cup cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 cinnamon stick
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/4 red jalapeno chile
  • 1/2 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
  • 1/4 pound red onions, julienned

Heat all ingredients except onions with 1 cup water to a simmer in a saucepan. Simmer for 5 minutes and remove from heat. Pour the pickling liquid over the onions in a mixing bowl and let cool to room temperature. Reserve the onions in the liquid until you are ready to use them. Onions will hold refrigerated for 7 to 10 days.

Makes 3/4 cup, or enough for 6 burgers.




“Instead of that . . . “boring slice of American cheese”

Beer-Cheese Sauce

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Any beer will do in this recipe (I borrowed a Michelob Ultra from my neighbor), though the better the brew, the better the sauce. I used the leftovers for mac and cheese; it also would be good as a chip dip or drizzled on nachos.

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon mustard powder
  • 3/4 cup beer
  • 1/2 cup half-and-half
  • 1 1/2 cups grated sharp cheddar
  • 1 tablespoon horseradish

Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir in flour and mustard powder; cook, stirring, 2 to 3 minutes (do not brown). Whisk in beer; bring to a simmer, then whisk in half-and-half. Simmer, whisking, until thickened, about 4 minutes. Stir in grated cheddar and horseradish.

— Food Network Magazine


Blue cheese sauce

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A perfect topping for your Buffalo burger, or as a dip for crudites.

  • 1 ounce Danish blue cheese, crumbled (about 1/4 cup)
  • 2 tablespoons lowfat buttermilk
  • 1 tablespoon light mayonnaise
  • Pinch of sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Mash blue cheese with the back of a fork in a small dish. Stir in remaining ingredients. Slather on top of burger buns.

Makes enough for 4 burgers.

— Shape magazine (

Training meals: A look inside the Steelers’ training kitchen

Lunch plates portioned to three different appetites. Gretchen McKay


They look invincible. Yet beneath those steely, confident exteriors, the Pittsburgh Steelers struggle just like the rest of us schlubs — at least when it comes to their diets.

The underweight players are attempting to pack on a few extra pounds. The heavier ones are working on losing some. And those who fit into their black and gold uniforms just right are doing their best to maintain.

Not an easy proposition when everyone’s eating three meals a day of the same food, practice leaves you starving and everything on the all-you-can-eat buffet tables looks soooo delicious.

Actually, it got a whole lot easier for players this year at the Steelers’ 47th annual summer training camp at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, which wraps up its three-week run tomorrow with an open practice from 3 to 5 p.m.

Those who cook for the team before the season commences initiated a new program that makes meal portioning as easy as filling Heinz Field with fans on a Sunday afternoon.

Rather than guess how a plate of kielbasa and sauteed veggies stacks up nutritionally to one that holds homemade pierogies or a piece of grilled fish — or in the case of those with the biggest appetites or caloric requirements, all of the above — a sign at the head of the buffet line spells it out for them in black and white: number of calories per serving, plus total grams of fat, protein and carbohydrates. But what really drives the point home is a side-by-side comparison of actual plates.

It’s one thing to mentally measure up that perfect portion, but it’s another thing entirely to see it right there in front of you, down to the exact tablespoon of steamed rice or ounce of grilled turkey. Do you want to gain, maintain or wane? Simply choose the serving suggestions that correspond.

“It’s a reference for them,” said general manager Reggie Esmi, who with executive chef Rick Laskie oversees the preparation and serving of meals in the college dining hall, which is operated by Parkhurst Dining Services. “That way, they know the number of carbs, fat, protein and calories before they build their plates.”

Also new this year is an emphasis on performance drinks. They’re made with fresh fruits such as pomegranate or kiwi and given a boost with flax seed.

Because they’re so much bigger than your average Joe, NFL players often are thought of as meat-and-potatoes kind of guys. What they really like is their vegetables — along with whole grains such as quinoa and wheat berries. That’s because like most professional athletes, they have become much more conscious in recent years of the connection between healthy eating and performance. In order to maintain the high energy levels for pre-season training and games, they fuel their bodies with all the healthful, nutrient-rich food they can get.

There’s still a fair amount of pasta on the daily menu, said Chef Laskie, who has been cooking for the team for 10 years. There also are higher-fat dishes such as ribs and hot wings (a favorite late-night snack). But not as much as you might think.

Today, fish — loaded with omega 3 fatty acids, which helps bodies recover after strenuous exercise — is a big crowd pleaser, along with lean grilled meats, fresh fruits and a wide array of vegetables, cooked and otherwise. Most meals include a trip to the massive salad bar in the middle of the dining room, where at least three greens vie for attention along with eight vegetables and array of homemade dressings and bacon bits.

One of the most popular menu items, says Chef Laskie, who graduated from Westmoreland County Community College’s culinary program, is the turkey burger. Served with a zesty Asian-style slaw, it’s made from a mixture of ground, brined turkey breast and chicken thigh, and cooked on a charcoal grill right outside the dining room. It’s not unusual for the team and their guests to go through more than 1,000 a week.

“I can’t eat a lot of stuff in the summer, but I eat the turkey burgers every day,” said veteran backup quarterback Byron Leftwich.

The Steelers love their Thai turkey burgers at training camp, served with a crunchy Asian slaw. Gretchen McKay

Another team favorite is the wood-fired pizza oven at the opposite end of the dining room. Most days it cooks up a choice of at least four pizzas and cheesy bread, all crafted from dough made fresh each day in the kitchen. There’s also a deli station with made-to-order sandwiches and paninis, a grill station featuring everything from bison to chicken, and a “Park Side” station with hot food items such as mashed potatoes and spicy ethnic dishes. Soup comes from house-made stocks.

“It’s a lot better than previous years,” said veteran starting linebacker Larry Foote. “Different stuff. They have this black-eyed pea curry that’s really good.”

In addition, four bakers crank out a tempting display of desserts, though players as a rule aren’t too big on sweets. On a recent Tuesday, selections included a flaky fruit tart brimming with fresh berries, pumpkin cake, oatmeal raisin cookies and for the players’ kids, Ho Hos Cupcakes. To help replace nutrients sweated out during practice, the kitchen employees, which this year included 50 seasonal workers in addition to the regular staff of 75, also served up glass after glass of orange, apple and other juices — some 530 gallons over the course of the four-week camp, or nearly 8,500 8-ounce servings.

Breakfast at training camp entails nearly as many choices. In addition to an omelet station where players can choose from more than a dozen kinds of fillings, there’s homemade oatmeal, cereals and a variety of baked goods. Smoothies made by whirling together fresh fruits and yogurt get a nutritional push with protein powder.

Because the menu needs to be approved in advance by team nutritionist Leslie Bonci and other staff, Chef Laskie and Mr. Esmi start planning early in May. By July 15, everything is confirmed, though not set completely in stone: Menu offerings are continually tweaked based on players’ likes and specials requests. To keep things exciting for players (and themselves), the culinary staff also cooks up a “surprise” every two or three days. Last week, for example, the team enjoyed a Brazilian barbecue of rubbed beef sirloin and brined turkey breast kebabs. Another night it was sushi.

“This is the players home for four weeks, and we want to do our part to make sure they’re happy,” said Chef Laskie.

Besides, he added, hospitality is part of the St. Vincent tradition. Which is why the culinary team also is responsible for preparing the concessions that feed the 5,000 to 10,000 fans who visit camp on any given day: hot dogs, pretzels, nachos.

Given all their workouts, it’s not unheard of for an NFL player to consume 5,000 calories or more each day during training camp. Multiply that by 90, plus what the 15 coaches, other staff and invited guests end up eating, and the end result is a grocery list that rivals that of a big restaurant. This year’s food order included 1,600 pounds each of chicken and beef, along with 1,100 pounds of fish. By the time camp concludes tomorrow, players also will have eaten their way through 1,200 pounds of cheese, 1,500 pounds of fresh seasonal veggies — a majority of it sourced locally — and two tons of fresh fruit. That’s 120 pounds of bananas, peaches, oranges and apples each day.

The Steelers’ training table includes healthy grains, such as this wheat berry salad. Gretchen McKay

Parkhurst continues the program at the UPMC Sports Performance Complex on the South Side once the season gets underway.

Feeding the Steelers during the annual pilgrimage to St. Vincent’s requires a herculean effort, with the morning crew arriving at 4 a.m. and the night crew working well past midnight. But no one’s complaining. Not even when there’s barely a second to catch your breath, let alone take a coffee break.

“When you enjoy what you do,” explained Mr. Esmi, who’s been doing it at St. Vincent’s for more than three decades, “you never go ‘Whew.'”


Black & Gold Thai Turkey Burgers with Asian Slaw

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Hamburgers are so passe, at least when they’re made with beef. These tasty, low-fat poultry burgers are one of the Steelers’ favorite lunch foods at training camp, says Executive Chef Rick Laskie. Made with turkey breast that’s brined, roasted and ground on site (for his brine recipe, see below), they’re charcoal-grilled right outside the dining room.

Chef Laskie wasn’t too eager to share his “secret recipe,” so whether or not the burgers are an exact replica of what the team chows down on after practice is anyone’s guess. But they’re close enough — and absolutely terrific.

Add the soy sauce a little at a time — depending on how finely ground the meat is, the mixture can quickly get soupy and thus difficult to grill.

  • 1 pound boneless, skinless turkey breast
  • 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • Course ground black pepper to taste
  • 6 green onions, minced
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1/4 cup low-sodium soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
  • Asian Slaw (recipe below)

Combine turkey breast, chicken thighs and coarse black pepper and process through grinder. (If you don’t have a grinder, get your butcher to do it for you. In a pinch, you also could purchase already-ground meat, but understand that it may contain skin.)

In a large mixing bowl, combine ground meat with green onions, cilantro, soy sauce and ginger. Shape mixture into 5-ounce patties.

Charcoal-grill burgers to 165 degrees to cook through. Serve burgers on wheat kaiser rolls with Asian Slaw.

Makes 6 burgers.

— Executive Chef Rick Laskie, Saint Vincent College


Asian Slaw

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  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup fresh lime juice
  • 2 cups thinly sliced fresh spinach
  • 2 cups thinly sliced green cabbage
  • 3 thinly sliced green onions
  • 1/2 thinly sliced bell pepper
  • 2/3 cup chopped dry roasted peanuts (optional)
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil or mint

For dressing, whisk together oil, garlic, soy sauce and lime juice. In a separate bowl, combine spinach, cabbage, onions, pepper, peanuts and basil or mint. Drizzle slaw with dressing, and toss well.

Serve with Thai Turkey Burgers.

— Executive Chef Rick Laskie, Saint Vincent College


Apple Cider Turkey Brine

  • 1 gallon water
  • 1 cup kosher salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup apple cider
  • 1 tablespoon black pepper

Mix ingredients in a large, clean bucket or bowl. Place turkey breast-side down in another bucket, and pour brine over. Cover with plastic wrap. Brine turkey 20 to 24 hours. Rinse well before roasting.

— Executive Chef Rick Laskie, Saint Vincent College


Training Camp Wheat berry Salad

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Wheat berries (whole, unprocessed wheat kernels) look sort of like brown rice and are just as easy to cook. Chewy and nutty, they’re incredibly nutritious and are hearty enough to stand up to even the boldest dressing.

I used spelt berries from Clarion River Organics (, $2.50 per pound) but you can find wheat berries in most specialty grocery stores.

  • 1 cup rinsed, cleaned wheat berries
  • 1 cup celery sliced on the bias
  • 1/2 cup diced red bell pepper
  • 1/2 cup diced yellow bell pepper
  • 1 cup diced red onion
  • 2 tablespoons chopped garlic
  • 1/2 cup chopped parsley
  • Cracked black pepper and kosher salt to taste
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup cider vinegar
  • Fresh sliced tomatoes for garnish

Rinse berries with cold water, submerging to remove soil particles; drain. Simmer wheat berries in lightly salted water for 25 to 30 minute, or until they are chewy but not crunchy. Drain and rinse berries under cold water.

Toss wheat berries with celery, peppers, onion, garlic and parsley. In a separate bowl, combine oil and vinegar and whisk to combine. Drizzle dressing over salad and toss to combine. (I only used about half.) Salt and pepper to taste.

Refrigerate and serve cold with fresh sliced tomatoes.

Makes 4 cups.

— Executive Chef Rick Laskie, Saint Vincent College

Hail to the chef: Julia Child’s fans celebrate her centennial

Julia’s 7 a.m. cooking class with GIs at Le Cordon Bleu, Paris, 1950. Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute.

Julia Child loved to socialize almost as much as she loved to cook. So nobody would have enjoyed the big celebration fans are cooking up in honor of her centennial next week more than the Grand Dame of American Cookery herself.

Cities all across the U.S. are paying tribute with special Julia-themed dinners and cooking demos, and her longtime publisher, Alfred A. Knopf, who introduced the towering French cook (she was 6 feet, 2 inches tall) to the world in 1961 with the publication of the groundbreaking “Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol. 1,” is whooping it up in a big way, too.

In May, the New York publishing house launched a 100-day celebration on various social media sites called JC100. Meant to provide something for every Julia lover out there, it includes themed events in bookstores along with written tributes and links to special recipes re-created by more than 100 food bloggers (one recent seasonal example we just had to try was Tomatoes Provencale; see recipe on page E-2). It also has released the first Julia Child app, from iTunes ($2.99). It brings to your fingertips 32 recipes from her seminal “Mastering the Art of French Cooking,” plus clips from the DVD version of “The Way to Cook” video series, grocery lists, audio pronunciations of some of the difficult-to-pronounce French dishes, and rare photographs. It also comes in a Nook version.

Not wanting to be outdone, PBS, the network that established Julia as a local celebrity in 1963 with “The French Chef” TV series, also has created a big Julia Child birthday site. At, you’ll find nearly 100 exclusive limited-time full episodes from her cooking series and specials, along with favorite recipes and tributes from big-name chefs and food bloggers — voices as varied as Emeril Lagasse, who cooked with Julia on PBS in his pre-Bam! days, to Paula Deen, who wishes she had. In deference to her quick wit and colorful vocabulary, the website also includes Julia’s “words of wisdom” and a sprinkling of Julia trivia. (For instance, she wore size 12 shoes, was an avid supporter of Planned Parenthood and was a breast cancer survivor.)

Born on Aug. 15 to a wealthy family in Pasadena, Calif., Julia died two days shy of her 92nd birthday in 2004, leaving behind a tasty legacy of more than a dozen cookbooks and hundreds of episodes from her 13 television series. In the process, she changed the way Americans thought about cooking and eating — and not just the fancy-pants French cuisine she mastered while living in Paris with her husband, Paul Child, whom she met during World War II while working in Ceylon for the government.

What most of us remember first about Julia is “The Voice,” which warbled and trilled like some kind of strange bird. But we also adored her sense of humor, and unbridled enthusiasm for cooking and eating, calories and fat content be damned. (“If you’re afraid of butter,” she famously quipped, “use cream!) Most of all we loved her wacky self-confidence. Julia not only inspired a heck of a lot of home chefs to stretch themselves in the kitchen, but also an entire generation of “real” chefs, including Jacques Pepin and Wolfgang Puck. When she arrived on the scene in the early 1960s, cooking from scratch for many Americans had become almost passe, with housewives instead seeking out convenience foods: frozen fish sticks, packaged cake mixes, canned vegetables, TV dinners. She made it hip again, or at least something worth trying, in part because she made cooking fun.

“She took this very intimidating idea of cooking, and translated it into something people could actually do,” says PBS chef and cookbook author Christy Rost, who grew up in Pittsburgh and is heading back here later this month to do cooking demos in honor of Julia’s centennial at local Market Districts stores (see box). A large part of that involved showing people that not only was it OK to make mistakes when cooking, but also necessary: Only through failure do you finally learn.

“And there is something very endearing and freeing about that,” says Ms. Rost.

Julia always insisted she wasn’t a true chef, despite having trained at Paris’ esteemed Le Cordon Bleu. Maybe that’s why despite her celebrity, she never got too full of herself. Accessible almost to a fault, she loved giving her fans advice — she was listed in the local phone book, and home cooks often would call with questions. She happily guided them through whatever cooking crisis was at hand before wishing them, “Bon appetit!”

“She was a mentor to everyone who was getting started, no matter what you were doing,” says Ms. Rost, who met her several times over the years and will be bringing a collection of Julia artifacts to her demos in Pittsburgh. The treasured pieces, which she purchased at an auction before Julia’s death to benefit the American Institute of Wine and Food, include the white kitchen scale “with the big beautiful round face” pictured on the cover of 1978’s “Julia Child & Company,” and a large metal spatula Julia used for making pastry.

The online headquarters for all things Julia can be found at You also can follow along on Twitter at @JC100; on Pinterest at; and on Tumblr at

Not all Julia fans cook, but they all must eat. One of the marque events being touted by JC100, then, is Julia Child Restaurant Week. One hundred restaurants in more than 30 cities will rework their menus to include some of the cook’s signature dishes from Aug. 7 up to her birthday on the 15th.

Alas, only one Pennsylvania eatery is participating, and it’s all the way across the state in Philadelphia, at Center City’s famed Le Bec Fin. Yet it may be well worth the six-hour drive on the turnpike: In addition to such classics as French onion soup and ratatouille, chef Walter Abrams will be whipping up lobster Americaine and crepes suzette. Info: or 1-215-567-1000.

Some other Julia birthday events on the front burner:

• Les Dames d’Escoffier (LDEI), a women’s professional culinary association to which Julia belonged, is honoring the special day with “Julia” celebrations in 25 of its chapter cities around the country this month and next. The closest to Pittsburgh is in Cleveland on Aug. 15, where members — who will dress up as Julia, right down to her pearls — will host a light summer supper featuring her recipes.

• The Julia Child Kitchen at the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C., has been closed to the public since January to allow for renovations to the museum’s west wing. To celebrate her centennial, it will be back on display for a limited time, Aug. 15 through Sept. 3, in the east wing. Designed by her husband, Paul, for their home in Cambridge, Mass., it was the setting for three of her TV shows and the testing ground for many of her recipes. It features 1,200 tools, appliances and furnishings, all arranged exactly as they were when she donated the kitchen to the museum at age 89 in 2001. Entrance is free.

Julia-inspired events in the museum’s Warner Bros. Theater (Flag Hall) include book signings by Alex Prud’homme of “My Life in France,” which the New York-based writer co-wrote with Julia during the last eight months of her life; Jessie Harland, who wrote the children’s picture book “Bon Appetite! The Delicious Life of Julia Child”; and Bob Spitz, whose new biography, “Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child” (Knopf, 2012, $29.95), will arrive on store shelves Aug. 15. It weighs in at 557 pages and includes 30 photographs.

• Want to learn how to make cheese souffle or asparagus with hollandaise? Sur La Table will offer cooking classes in many cities on Aug. 15 ($69, with a limited number of spots) during which instructors will walk participants through several of her most famous dishes.

• From 6 p.m. to midnight on Aug. 18, Create TV will air back-to-back episodes of “Baking With Julia” and “Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home.”


Homemade Mayonnaise

Don’t worry if the first couple of batches don’t turn out exactly right — mayonnaise eluded Julia for the longest time, too, according to author Bob Spitz in his upcoming biography, “Dearie,” which arrives on shelves Aug. 15. (The key is to add the oil SLOWLY.) Once you get the hang of it, though, you’ll never buy commercial mayo again. Lately, we’ve been slathering it on tomato sandwiches.

3 egg yolks

1 tablespoon wine vinegar or lemon juice, plus more as needed

1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more for seasoning

1/4 teaspoon dry or prepared mustard, plus more for seasoning

1 1/2 to 2 1/4 cups olive oil, salad oil or a mixture of each

Freshly ground pepper

Warm a round-bottomed, 2 1/2- to 3-quart glazed pottery, glass or stainless steel mixing bowl in hot water. Dry it. Add egg yolks and beat for 1 to 2 minutes until they are thick and sticky.

Add vinegar or lemon juice, salt and mustard. Beat for 30 seconds more.

The egg yolks are now ready to receive the oil, and while it goes in, drop by drop, you must not stop beating until the sauce has thickened. A speed of 2 strokes per second is fast enough. You can switch hands or switch directions, it makes no difference so long as you beat constantly. (I cheated and used a KitchenAid mixer.) Add the drops of oil with a teaspoon, or rest the lip of the bottle on the edge of the bowl. Keep youR eye on the oil rather than on the sauce. Stop pouring and continue beating every 10 seconds or so, to be sure the egg yolks are absorbing the oil. After 1/3 to 1/2 cup of oil has been incorporated, the sauce will thicken into a very heavy cream and the crisis is over. The beating arm may rest a moment. Then beat in the remaining oil by 1 to 2 tablespoon dollops, blending it thoroughly after each addition.

When the sauce becomes too thick and stiff, beat in drops of vinegar or lemon juice to thin out. Then continue with oil.

Season to taste using vinegar, lemon juice, salt, pepper and mustard.

If sauce is not used immediately, scrape it into a small bowl and cover it closely so a skin will not form on the surface.

Makes 2 1/2 cups.

— “Mastering the Art of French Cooking: Vol. 1” by Julia Child and Simone Beck (Knopf, 1961)

Tomates a la provencale (Tomatoes stuffed with Bread crumbs, herbs and garlic)

Tomatoes Provencale. Gretchen McKay

This is turning out to be a banner year for tomatoes, the star attraction of this savory baked side dish. It couldn’t be less fussy, but the simple preparation allows the flavor of the fruit to really shine. Serve with grilled meat or fish, or alongside a quiche or omelet.

  • 6 firm, ripe, red tomatoes about 3 inches in diameter
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 to 2 cloves mashed garlic
  • 3 tablespoons minced shallots or green onions
  • 4 tablespoons minced fresh basil and parsley, or parsley only
  • 1/8 teaspoon thyme
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 cup crumbs from fresh white bread with body

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Remove stems from tomatoes, and cut in half crosswise. Gently press out the juice and seeds. Sprinkle the halves lightly with salt and pepper.

Blend remaining ingredients plus 1/2 teaspoon salt and a big pinch of pepper in a mixing bowl. Correct seasoning. Fill each tomato half with a spoonful or two of the mixture. Sprinkle with a few drops of olive oil. Arrange tomatoes in the roasting pan; do not crowd them. (Recipe may be prepared ahead to this point.)

Shortly before you are ready to serve, place tomato halves in the upper third of the preheated oven and bake for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the tomatoes are tender but still hold their shape, and the bread crumb filling has browned lightly.

Serves 6.

— “Mastering the Art of French Cooking: Selected Recipes” available for $2.99 for iPad ( or Nook (


French Potato Salad

I first had this classic salad as a newlywed — my mother-in-law was a huge Julia fan, and this was her favorite way to serve potatoes. It has a wonderful tanginess you don’t find in mayonnaise-based potato salads.

  • 2 pounds boiling potatoes (8 to 10 medium)
  • 4 tablespoons dry white wine, or 2 tablespoons dry white vermouth and 2 tablespoons stock or canned bouillon
  • 2 tablespoons wine vinegar, or 1 tablespoon vinegar and 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon prepared mustard
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 6 tablespoons olive or salad oil
  • Pepper
  • Optional: 1 to 2 tablespoons minced shallots or green onions, and 2 to 3 tablespoons mixed green herbs or parsley

Scrub potatoes. Drop them in boiling salted water to cover, and boil until potatoes are just tender when pierced with a small knife. Drain. As soon as they are cool enough to handle, peel and cut them into slices about 1/8 inch thick. Place them in a mixing bowl.

Pour wine or vermouth and stock or bouillon over the warm potato slices and toss very gently. Set aside for a few minutes until the potatoes have absorbed the liquids.

Beat vinegar or vinegar and lemon juice, mustard and salt in a small bowl until the salt has dissolved. Then beat in the oil by droplets. Season to taste, and stir in the optional shallots or onions. Pour the dressing over the potatoes and toss gently to blend.

Serve them while still warm, or chill. Decorate with herbs before serving.

Makes about 6 cups.

— “Mastering the Art of French Cooking: Selected Recipes” available for $2.99 for iPad ( or Nook (

Pittsburgh Food: The Original Farmers Market and its bounty have been drawing crowds for nearly a century

The Original Farmers Market was located on the North Side of Pittsburgh in the 1940s.



Farmers markets never have been more popular, with new ones popping up every season. Yet this is how Western Pennsylvania farmers always have brought their products to market during the growing season — some of them for generations.

Diane Ryglewicz has staffed a stall three nights a week at The Original Farmers Market for, well . . . forever, it seems, both at its current location on Route 50 in South Fayette and also at the old Heidelberg Raceway, where the market did business for several years in the 1970s. Before that, she and other long-time farmers in the market group, which is Pittsburgh’s oldest, set up shop three nights a week in the North Side.

“It’s been since I was born, basically, going on 60 years,” she said with a weary chuckle on a recent Friday evening as the crowd flowed from stand to stand, swooning over the gorgeous displays of tomatoes, peaches and sweet corn. Mrs. Ryglewicz has been part of this for nearly two-thirds of the market’s 92-year history.

The yawn she’s fighting back this steamy evening is well-earned: A little more than a hour before, she and her son, Dustin, had backed their white truck to the edge of the farm’s space in the covered pavilion, and unloaded, with weathered hands, several tables’ worth of produce from their 64-acre farm in Mercer: summer squash, zucchini, feed corn. Everything was picked fresh that morning.

Carolyn McQuiston of Dawson’s Orchards had an equally early start. The hundreds of peaches she and her kids packed into boxes were plucked off trees in her family’s orchard in Lawrence County’s Enon Valley just a few hours before, because to offer her customers days-old fruit would be unthinkable.

“For the best flavor, you want to leave it on the tree as long as possible,” she said, adding, “People really appreciate the quality.”

Not to mention the variety, which changes weekly as the different crops come in.

Many customers make a night of it, grabbing something to eat or drink at one of the picnic tables after filling their bags with produce. The lines are especially long at the Country Style Pizza booth, where “Fry Guy” Steve Heins cranks out basket after basket of hand-cut french fries. On a typical Friday, in three hours, he’ll go through 50 pounds of potatoes.

The market plows ahead regardless of weather, thanks to the cavernous roof — a rarity among the region’s 120-plus farmers markets. Yet it’s rooted in tradition. When the forebears of The Original Farmers Market set up shop a century ago on the sloping bank of the Monongahela Wharf, Downtown, they, too, enjoyed covered selling space. Though getting to that city-owned market was more of a hassle: in 1919, when the group incorporated as the Allegheny County Fruit & Vegetable Growers Association, “going to market” involved hitching a wagon to a horse and negotiating the hilly terrain on the other side of the river.

Mrs. Ryglewicz’s father, Louis Orient, who owned a farm in Blairsville, was among the hundreds of vegetable, fruit and poultry farmers who sold along the Mon in the ’20s and ’30s, when warehouse-lined Water Street was the cobblestoned center of Pittsburgh’s maritime traffic. When the city shut the market down in 1938, he and the others — calling themselves The Original Farmers Market — leased space in a parking lot at the corner of West Robinson and Lacock streets in the North Side. Louis Orient would serve as president of the group for four decades.

Shoppers check out the tomatoes at The Original Farmers Market in South Fayette. Steve Mellon/Post-Gazette

For the farmers, the market always has been a family affair, with parents and grandparents working alongside cousins, siblings and uncles and aunts. One of Mrs. Ryglewicz’s earliest memories is of selling flowers on the North Side for 50 cents a bunch, while her grandmother watched from a stand across the aisle. She was 4. “Francis the Cop would help me make change,” she recalled with a chuckle.

Sonny Janoski of Janoski’s Farm in Clinton, who jokes he started going to market when he was “still in the womb,” learned to make change when he was a kid, too. His parents, Anna and Michael, had a farm in Mt. Lebanon, and everyone was expected to pitch in.

Back then, the market boasted more than 400 members and was open year-round. The biggest crowds — 4,000 to 5,000 on an average night and up to 12,000 on “special paydays” and Fridays — came during July and August, as the summer crops ripened. The opening bell sounded promptly at 6:30 p.m., but things didn’t really get hopping until after 9.

“We had to wait until the stores Downtown closed,” recalled Mr. Janoski, now 75. That meant vendors didn’t get home until well after midnight. “It was busy, busy.”

No one was sure if the crowds would follow when construction of Three Rivers Stadium forced a move to Heidelberg Raceway in Scott. They did, even if some of its farmers did not, opting instead to open a competing market in McKees Rocks. Another move in 1978 to today’s location near Cecil also couldn’t keep the crowds away; after a “lull” in the early 2000s, the market is busier than ever, said Mr. Janoski, whose farm has the largest stall — a whopping 90 feet long.

“When Sonny wants to display something, it’s not two rows. It’s five,” said his daughter-in-law Patty Janoski, laughing.

As market president since 1980, it’s Mr. Janoski’s job to sound the electric siren that announces the start of business at exactly 5:30 p.m. And make no mistake, people are anxiously jockeying in position, usually with dollar bills in their outstretched fists. No vendor will sell you a thing before that siren, which has been part of the market since its North Side days, goes off.

Though the market officially opens in May with a bounty of spring greens, it doesn’t become a “real” farmers market until corn and tomatoes arrive in mid July, says Mr. Janoski. It runs through Thanksgiving.

Buying habits have changed dramatically since the early days of the market. Mrs. McQuiston remembers her parents, George and Janet Dawson, selling peaches by the bushel. Now, it’s small baskets, “because people don’t can or freeze” like they used to.

Same with the tomato crop from Janoski’s, which used to arrive by the truckloads.

“Younger people, they don’t have the time, especially if two people are working in the family,” said Mr. Janoski’s wife, JoAnn, who also comes from a farming family.

Stop by the market in September, though, and you’ll see bushel baskets of peppers and tomatoes set aside for the old-timers who still like to put things up.

Also new are all the different accents among shoppers, reflecting Pittsburgh growing cultural diversity. Regulars include Sophia Bralj of Castle Shannon, who grew up in Yugoslavia.

“It’s fresh, and it’s cheaper,” she said, showing bags laden with lettuce, cukes, peppers and kohlrabi.

What hasn’t changed is how much time and effort the farmers put in during the season.

“We’re committed. It’s not like you can call in sick, or take the night off,” said Mrs. McQuiston, even to have a baby. Her daughter, Karen, is a prime example. She was induced so everyone could make it to market the day before.

“It’s a way of life,” she said. “It runs in the veins.”


* * * *



Dawson’s Orchard Peach Cobbler

We ate this for breakfast. And after lunch (husband). And before dinner (me). Enough said?


Dawson’s Orchard Peach Cobbler/Gretchen McKay
  • 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 4 cups sliced fresh peaches
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 3 tablespoons shortening
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup milk


Heat oven to 400 degrees. Mix 1/2 cup sugar, cornstarch and cinnamon in a saucepan. Stir in peaches and lemon juice. Cook, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens and boils. Boil and stir 1 minute. Pour into ungreased 8-by-8-inch pan; keep mixture hot in oven.

Cut shortening into flour. Add remaining 1 tablespoon sugar, baking powder and salt and mix until mixture resembles fine crumbs. Stir in milk. Drop dough by spoonfuls onto hot peach mixture.

Bake until golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes. Serve warm, if desired, with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

Makes 6 servings.

— Dawson’s Orchards



Peach Salad Dressing

PG tested

This bright and tangy salad dressing is terrific on salad greens, but you also could spoon it onto grilled chicken.


  • 1 peach
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper


Peel and pit peach, and cut into chunks. Place with remaining dressing ingredients in a food processor or high-powered blender and puree until smooth.

Makes about 1/2 cup.

— Dawson’s Orchards







Janoski’s Tomato-Cucumber-Onion Salad

  • 2 medium tomatoes, diced
  • 4 medium pickle cucumbers
  • 1 small Sweet Candy onion, cut up fine
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup oil
  • 1 teaspoon sugar


Add ingredients to a large bowl, and toss together. Salt and pepper to taste. Chill and serve.Serves 4.

— Janoski’s Farm


Janoski’s Fried Corn

Gretchen McKay


  • 6 ears of homegrown corn
  • 1 stick butter
  • 1 large Sweet Candy onion, or other sweet onion, diced


Prepare corn as you would to eat it off the cob. The Janoski crew brings the water to a full rolling boil, adds the corn and then turns the burner off; leave the corn in for no more than 10 minutes.

Melt the butter in a electric skillet. (I used a cast-iron skillet.) Toss in onion and allow to partially cook, about 3 to 4 minutes.

Cut the corn kernels off the cob and throw into the onion-butter mixture. Allow to brown up nice, about 2 to 3 minutes.

Serves 4.

— Janoski’s Farm

What’s for Dinner: Grilled Chorizo with Garlic-Sage Potato Puree

Grilled Chorizo with Garlic-Sage Potato Puree /Gretchen McKay

This recipe is simple but looks so impressive on the plate that you’ll feel as if you had put one over on your dinner guests. Local potatoes are plentiful now at area farmers markets — I got some beauties at the Janoski’s stand at the Original Farmers Market in South Fayette — but you’re probably going to have to search harder for mini chorizos, a Spanish pork sausage sized for grilling and flavored with smoked paprika and garlic. Unable to find them, I ended up cutting large chorizo links from Parma Sausage in the Strip into bite-sized pieces, which worked just fine.

Be careful not to overcook the potatoes, or they’ll turn into wallpaper paste. (Trust me!) Not that they still won’t taste delicious.

  • 2 pounds potatoes, cut into quarters
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 6 cloves garlic
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 3 tablespoons heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage
  • Salt to taste
  • 36 cantimpalitos (mini chorizos)

In a large pot of boiling water, boil potatoes until soft. In a skillet, heat olive oil and garlic together on medium heat for 7 minutes, until garlic is cooked through, soft and brown. Drain potatoes and put them in a food processor with garlic, olive oil, butter, cream, sage and salt. Puree well and set aside; keep hot.

Heat a grill to medium-high. Thread cantimpalitos onto skewers, 6 pieces per serving. (If using wooden skewers, remember to soak them in water for at least 1/2 hour beforehand.)  Grill for 4 minutes per side. Divide potatoes onto 6 plates and top each serving with a skewer of grilled sausages.

Serves 6.

— “Espana: Exploring the Flavors of Spain” by James Campbell Caruso (Gibbs Smith, 2012, $40)