Bricco Panetteria in Boston's North End "Little Italy www.morewinelesswhines.com
Cooking, Travel

Boston’s North End: Italian American Mecca

Bricco Panetteria in Boston's North End "Little Italy www.morewinelesswhines.com

Bricco Panetteria in Boston’s North End “Little Italy

The greatest cities in the United States boast melting pots of cultures, which evolved from wave after wave of immigrants calling US soil their new home.  What do I think is the best part about these melting pots?  The food (and people, too)!   In Boston, there is a concentrated area of Italian Americans that would be called “Little Italy” in other cities, but is known in Boston as the “North End.”  There are tiny little shops, many of which have been passed on from generation to generation, all along the narrow, winding streets of the North End.

I was fortunate to spend the coldest winter day in Boston walking and eating my way through Boston’s Italian American mecca with my husband, his family and close family friends on Michele Topor’s Boston Food Tour.

We started our tour at a Panetteria, or small bread bakery.  There was a tiny little alleyway, which led to a single door, which led down a narrow staircase, to the panetteria counter!  We all purchased a loaf of bread – our bread of choice had prosciutto inside!

Bricco Panetteria in Boston's North End "Little Italy     www.morewinelesswhines.com

Bricco Panetteria in Boston’s North End “Little Italy

We then made our way to Bricco Salumeria and Pasta Shop, where we sampled olives, balsamic vinegar, saba, olive oils, prosciutto, and cheeses.

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Bricco Salumeria and Pasta Shop, Boston's North End    www.morewinelesswhines.com

Bricco Salumeria and Pasta Shop, Boston’s North End

We made our way through the winding streets to an authentic Italian pastry shop, Maria’s Pastry Shop.  It was old school Italian, with the best cannoli I have ever had (and, Father, Son & Holy Spirit, I am not even a big cannoli fan)!  Please note, if you ever want to experience good cannoli, with a crunchy fried dough shell and a sweet cream or ricotta filling, you better go somewhere where they fill the shells to order!  I didn’t photograph them, but Maria makes incredible marzipan, sfogliatelle and lobster tails (the pastries, not the crustaceans).

Maria's Pastry Shop, Boston's North End      www.morewinelesswhines.com

Maria’s Pastry Shop, Boston’s North End

Maria's Pastry Shop, Boston's North End    www.morewinelesswhines.com

Maria’s Pastry Shop, Boston’s North End

Maria's Pastry Shop, Boston's North End      www.morewinelesswhines.com

Maria’s Pastry Shop, Boston’s North End

We enjoyed the sights, smells and tastes inside of Monica’s Mercato and Salumeria.  The shop is family owned, as Monica’s son told us during our visit while he pointed to photos of his mother that adorned the walls.  “My mother taught me everything I know about cooking and food.  I started my first food shop/restaurant when I was 16 and just kept working from there to where I am now.”  My husband commented that if he lived in Boston’s North End, he would eat an Italian sub a day, every day, from Monica’s.  There is also a really compact Mercato featuring pizza downstairs, which is also where they make all the bread for the upstairs Mercato (Notice the wall made out of wine corks in the background.  Wouldn’t that be a fun endeavor to take on with friends?  “Ok, team, now this is going to be hard work, but we need to drink a few hundred bottles of wine this year so I can start the wine cork wall.  Ready, set, go!”)

Monica's Mercato and Salumeria, Boston's North End     www.morewinelesswhines.com

Monica’s Mercato and Salumeria, Boston’s North End

Monica's Mercato and Salumeria, Boston's North End       www.morewinelesswhines.com

Monica’s Mercato and Salumeria, Boston’s North End

Monica's Mercato, Boston's North End      www.morewinelesswhines.com

Monica’s Mercato, Boston’s North End

At the fresh produce market, I learned the difference between a male and female eggplant.  (Look for the one with a dot on the bottom, not a wide flat line.  The eggplant with the dot is a male and will have less seeds, thus being better for Italian American dishes such as Eggplant Parmesan).  We also visited a wonderful wine and liquor store, an incredible coffee, spice and herb store and learned so much more. This little post does not even scratch the surface on the shops and restaurants that fill the North End.   I hope that some day you will go to the North End yourself and experience the same lovely food tour my family enjoyed!

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Gardening, Travel

Christmas at the Phipp’s Conservatory in Pittsburgh

If you are ever in Pittsburgh and love flowers, take time to visit Phipp’s Conservatory.  I have visited the conservatory with my husband and his family during multiple seasons over the past few years.  Each visit has been unique.  Several years ago, we toured during a Chihuly glass exhibit. Last fall, we sat through an Indian spice session in the Indian Rain Forest exhibit and then toured the Center for Sustainable Landscapes.  This year, we visited during the winter display featuring decked out Christmas trees, poinsettias galore, a “snowman” wedding made out of air plants (bromeliads) and more!  Enjoy the photos below – don’t ask me the names of all the orchids because I couldn’t tell you!

One of the decorated trees at Phipps Conservatory     www.morewinelesswhines.com

One of the decorated trees at Phipps Conservatory

Norfolk Pine, Paperwhites and Hydrangeas at Phipps Conservatory      www.morewinelesswhines.com

Norfolk Pine, Paperwhites and Hydrangeas at Phipps Conservatory

Beautiful Display at Phipps Conservatory    www.morewinelesswhines.com

Beautiful Display at Phipps Conservatory

Staghorn Ferns + More in a large wire hanging basket at Phipps Conservatory www.morewinelesswhines.com

Staghorn Ferns + More in a large wire hanging basket at Phipps Conservatory

Bridal Bromeliads at Phipps Conservatory    www.morewinelesswhines.com

Bridal Bromeliads at Phipps Conservatory

Succulent Christmas Tree    www.morewinelesswhines.com

Succulent Christmas Tree

Air Plants in all their glory     www.morewinelesswhines.com

Air Plants in all their glory

It'll be a Blue Christmas without you!   www.morewinelesswhines.com

It’ll be a Blue Christmas without you!

Beautiful spin on a classic boxwood garden with a poinsettia twist at Phipps Conservatory   www.morewinelesswhines.com

Beautiful spin on a classic boxwood garden with a poinsettia twist at Phipps Conservatory

www.morewinelesswhines.com www.morewinelesswhines.com www.morewinelesswhines.com www.morewinelesswhines.com www.morewinelesswhines.com www.morewinelesswhines.com www.morewinelesswhines.com www.morewinelesswhines.com

Phipps Conservatory - Poinsettias, Cyclamen, and more!     www.morewinelesswhines.com

Phipps Conservatory – Poinsettias, Cyclamen, and more!

Bromeliad ring bearer at Phipps Conservatory     www.morewinelesswhines.com

Bromeliad ring bearer at Phipps Conservatory

Bromeliad bride with Bouquet at Phipps Conservatory    www.morewinelesswhines.com

Bromeliad bride with Bouquet at Phipps Conservatory

Eco bears at the Phipps Conservatory    www.morewinelesswhines.com

Eco bears at the Phipps Conservatory

A light display meant for nighttime at the Phipps Conservatory     www.morewinelesswhines.com

A light display meant for nighttime at the Phipps Conservatory

 

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Cooking, Travel

Whiskey, Ginger ale & Lime: A Good Alternative to Beer in a Pub

Doheny & Nesbitt, Dublin, Ireland    www.morewinelesswhines.com

Doheny & Nesbitt, Dublin, Ireland

We had our first official pub experience at Doheny & Nesbitt in Dublin, Ireland, during the second day of our Irish adventure.   Guess what was blaring on all the TVs?  The Heineken Cup final match!  The eyes of locals were glued to the rugby match playing out on TVs in the packed pub.  Fortunately, being Americans, we did not need a great view of the game, so we snagged a great 5-person nook in the corner.  I have been to a few “Irish” themed pubs in America, but none compare to Doheny & Nesbitt!

Irish blessing inside the old Middleton Distillery     www.morewinelesswhines.com

Irish blessing inside the old Middleton Distillery

My husband ordered a Guiness and I ordered a Whiskey Ginger Ale with Lime.  My sister-in-law could not stand the drink.  It is certainly not for everyone.  It is not sweet and I cannot drink more than 1-2 of them in an evening.  This is a solid drink.  Just be sure not to wear a swimsuit while drinking this one, as it may put some hair on your chest.

Jameson Whiskey Bottle Chandelier    www.morewinelesswhines.com

Jameson Whiskey Bottle Chandelier

In all the pubs, they would serve this drink in a tall glass filled with ice and a shot of Jameson in the bottom and a lime wedge on the rim.  There was a single serve glass bottle of Ginger ale served alongside, the perfect amount.  Jameson is the only whiskey I can drink.  Johnny Walker or  Jack Daniels just aren’t the same here.

Middleton Distillery Tour - Old Copper Pot Stills for Distilling   www.morewinelesswhines.com

Middleton Distillery Tour – Old Copper Pot Stills for Distilling

Oh, and what mixed drink did they serve at the end of our Middleton Distillery tour?  Whiskey, Ginger Ale & Lime of course!

Whiskey Tasting at the Middleton Distillery    www.morewinelesswhines.com

Whiskey Tasting at the Middleton Distillery plus a Whiskey Ginger Ale & Lime

Whiskey, Ginger Ale & Lime

Fill a glass with ice.  Add a shot of Jameson.  Fill glass to the brim with Ginger ale.  Squeeze in the juice from a single lime wedge.  Stir.  Garnish with a fresh lime wedge.

Cheers!

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Travel

Visiting Ireland in May: Glendalough, County Wicklow, Ireland

The Round Tower at Glendalough, Co Wicklow, Ireland    www.morewinelesswhines.com

The Round Tower at Glendalough, Co Wicklow, Ireland

I hear a woman gently singing an old tune as she strings her fingers along a harp and the sound of raindrops falling down stones onto the grass.  The moss and lichen grow thick on the ancient, aged stone walls.  The stone and mud beneath my feet are slick with rain.  The Irish mist and clouded skies add to the sense of mystery in this historic place.  This is Glendalough, the first site we are visiting in our 8 day tour of the Republic of Ireland.

Window in remains of a church building - Glendalough, County Wicklow, Ireland   www.morewinelesswhines.com

Window in remains of a church building – Glendalough, County Wicklow, Ireland

Glendalough is located in County Wicklow, Ireland, and is most famous for its history as an early medieval monastic settlement founded by St. Kevin back in the 6th century.

The view overlooking tombstones - Glendalough, County Wicklow, Ireland   www.morewinelesswhines.com

The view overlooking tombstones – Glendalough, County Wicklow, Ireland

In the distance, I can imagine the cave where the holy men once dwelled and hear the prayers of those who have lived, prayed and died on this land.  The atmosphere is solemn and reverent.  Celtic crosses mark the graves of the deceased.  More than anything, Glendalough is a place of great beauty and peace.

Glendalough, County Wicklow, Ireland   www.morewinelesswhines.com

Glendalough, County Wicklow, Ireland

My husband’s family and I were fortunate enough to spend 8 days this past May touring the Republic of Ireland.  Our tour was developed and guided by Paul Gregan.   Paul tailored the trip to our family, had a great sense of Irish humor and kept each day of the tour flexible.   He even personally drove us throughout the country!  If you are planning a trip to Ireland, do yourself a favor and look at Paul’s website.  Tell him “Queenie” gave the recommendation.  Yes, after only a short time he learned that my nickname is “Queenie.”

I will be sprinkling highlights from the trip into my upcoming posts.  Have a great day!

Glendalough, County Wicklow, Ireland    www.morewinelesswhines.com

Glendalough, County Wicklow, Ireland

 

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Cooking, Travel

Spinach Tortellini with Pesto & Tomatoes

Spinach Tortellini with Pesto & Tomatoes

Spinach Tortellini with Pesto & Tomatoes

I was dreaming of sunny California when I found (gasp!) fresh basil and tomatoes (that smelled like tomatoes!) at the grocery store.  Before my logical self (you are in Chicago and it is about to snow) caught up with my non-logical self (basil, tomatoes, hints of spring), I had created Spinach Tortellini with Pesto & Tomatoes.  And you know what?  It was very, very good!  This will taste even better in the summer.  This can be made ahead and served the next day, too!

Spinach Tortellini with Pesto & Tomatoes

10 oz spinach tortellini
3-4 T fresh pesto
6 oz tomatoes, seeded & chopped into 1/2″ pieces
2 T pine nuts, toasted
3 T Romano cheese, grated

Cook spinach tortellini according to package directions and Drain. Mine only took 3 minutes to cook.

Immediately toss hot, drained tortellini with pesto and tomatoes.

Top with pine nuts and Romano cheese at the table.

Enjoy!

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Cooking, Traditions, Travel

Rosemary, Nutmeg & Shallot Sweet Potato Fries (so you can eat cookies later)

Rosemary, Nutmeg and Shallot Sweet Potato Fries

Rosemary, Nutmeg and Shallot Sweet Potato Fries

After Thanksgiving dinner and weekend, I felt like a stuffed turkey.

My inputs have not been equaling my outputs, despite my best efforts at physical activity.   I have also developed a fear of the ‘expanding chair,’ my very wide chair at work that everyone says is because new employees develop the work equivalent of the “freshman 15.”

To balance the extravagance and edible utopia that the holiday season brings, I have been working to showcase 1-2 vegetables with each dinner.  With my family’s upcoming bake-a-thon worthy of the cookie monster himself  (more details in a week), I feel a need to balance…

I am a passionate cook and baker.  More than anything, I enjoy eating good food –  with my friends and family, in the company of new friends and coworkers and among strangers in new cities.  Every meal leads to a story.  Some stories are better than others, but a story nonetheless.  A recipe is good, but not complete, without some form of a story preceding it – some reason or way it came into being.

We spent the Thanksgiving holiday in Pittsburgh with my husband’s family.  One of my favorite culinary stops  is “The Strip” district in downtown Pittsburgh.  I have been going there for the past 8 years, (since Mark and I started dating).  It never gets old.  I stop at Enrico Biscotti company and get the White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Biscotti.  We go to Penn Mac and get some good cheeses, stock up on dried pastas, balsamic vinegars and pignoli nuts.  This time, I also bought fresh nutmeg for $.50.  With fresh nutmeg now on hand, I started to experiment.  The recipe below is the result.

The Enrico Biscotti Company, Pittsburgh, PA

The Enrico Biscotti Company, Pittsburgh, PA

Pennsylvania  Macaroni Company Cheese Selection, Pittsburgh, PA

Pennsylvania Macaroni Company Cheese Selection, Pittsburgh, PA

Grating Fresh Nutmeg (no it is not an alien)

Grating Fresh Nutmeg (no it is not an alien)

Rosemary, Nutmeg and Shallot Sweet Potato Fries

2 Sweet Potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2″ x 2-3″ ‘fries’
1 tsp. fresh rosemary, minced
a few gratings of fresh nutmeg
1-2 T extra virgin olive oil
1 shallot, thinly sliced cross-wise (Optional*)

Preheat the oven to 450F.

Spray an 11″ x 7″ or similar baking dish** with cooking spray.  Toss together all ingredients in a bowl.  Transfer to baking dish.

Bake 15 minutes.  Stir.   Bake additional 12 minutes.

Very good served with pork tenderloin, green beans or alone as a snack!

Notes:
*I found the shallots will burn if spread out in a really big pan, so omit if you are going for a ‘crispy fry’
**For crispier fries, use a jelly roll pan and spread out fries so they are not touching.

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Cooking, Travel

Chicago’s Eataly One Bite at a Time

I have been waiting for an excuse to go to New York so I could visit Eataly.  Imagine my glee when I heard Eataly, the ultimate Italian foodie experience outside of Italy, was coming to Chicago!

Eataly opened in Chicago on Monday.  It is on East Ohio Street, between North Rush Street and North Wabash Avenue.   Tuesday night, I had a few minutes after class, so I ran (literally ran 8 blocks) to venture into the 2 story tribute to a cuisine that brings comfort to millions of Italian Americans and wannabe Italians across Chicago.  First, I have never experienced anything like it.  Second, I, along with tons of Chicagoans, looked like a lost puppy, with my jaw on the floor and eyes the size of teacup saucers.

You walk in and see two stories of every possible food you never even knew you could have in one place.  Nuttella bar?  Check.

Eataly

Eataly

Nutella Bar in Eataly

Nutella Bar in Eataly

The chocolate, oh the chocolate – and the sweets!  There is every kind of Italian inspired food gadget you could imagine, plus food nerd pieces such as silicone baking molds.

Sweet Confections at Eataly

Sweet Confections at Eataly

Silicone Baking Molds at Eataly

Silicone Baking Molds at Eataly

There is a cured meat and cheese section with good prosciutto and all my favorite cheeses.  If you are a real nut for ‘good’ parmesan, Eataly welcomes you with entire wheels of authentic Parmigiano Reggiano.  I almost fell over when I saw them, in a pile, stacked for show or pleasure, I am not sure which, right outside house-made mozzarella section.

Parmigiano Reggiano at Eataly

Parmigiano Reggiano at Eataly

Just some of the cheeses available at Eataly… don't worry there are a lot more!

Just some of the cheeses available at Eataly… don’t worry there are a lot more!

What else?  Everything else you can and can’t imagine.  Aisle upon aisle of pasta, sauce, olive oils displayed like wine, vino – all kinds of vino, a meat shop, a seafood shop, set-up small town style within the two story megaplex.

One pasta aisle at Eataly

One pasta aisle at Eataly

Seafood Market at Eataly

Seafood Market at Eataly

Meat Market at Eataly

Meat Market at Eataly

Then there are little restaurants.  I had a quick bite at Le Verdure, a vegetable restaurant.  There is a section for brick oven pizzas, too. At Le Verdure, I had the Gnocchi alla Romana.

Pizza Eataly Style

Pizza Eataly Style

Menu at Le Verdure in Eataly

Menu at Le Verdure in Eataly

Gnocchi alla Romana from Le Verdure in Eataly

Gnocchi alla Romana from Le Verdure in Eataly

The gnocchi was excellent.  I wish I had more time so I could have sampled more true vegetable dishes from the menu.  The wait staff was very kind even though I was in a hurry.  As I was walking through the cheese section I overheard one of the employees talking to a customer.  He said, “They sent me here from the New York store to help get things started right.”  I saw what looked like Joe Bastianich sitting down to pizza with two other serious businessmen in suits.  Men and women were streaming into Eataly from their jobs in the city wearing full suits and dresses, grabbing a rotisserie chicken or other pre-made item for dinner, standing at the marble tabletop freestanding ‘bars’ sharing a glass of wine or meeting up for a date night.  There were women with children, older couples and people of every race and ethnic background.

I will be going back soon (hopefully with more than 30 minutes) to explore, eat and enjoy!  Next time I would like to do some Christmas shopping, try the gelato at the gelateria, sample the nutella treats at the nutella bar, buy some chocolates and savor the Neapolitan style pizza.  Oh, and I might read some Ernest Hemingway before going.  What?  Yep, the Chicago location is dedicated to Ernest Hemingway, an Oak Park native & Italy lover.

After I get to spend more time in Eataly, I will post “Take 2.”   I just could not wait to write about the experience!  I would encourage you to go if you are ever in Chicago.  There is a parking garage on the North side of E. Ohio street.  It’s a cab ride (if you are wearing heels, feeling lazy or don’t want to freeze in the Chicago cold) from Water Tower Place and some of the best shopping in Chicago.  I walked it no problem.

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