chicky soup

the corner grill in bowling green is not only known for the food that kills a hangover, but also for the amazing staff. grumpy and honest by night (to fend off the angry drunks), smiling and friendly and chatty by day. most servers will get to know you, the cooks will gladly make you a pancake shaped like pac-man upon request, and some might sit with you while you eat it. most go to eat their food and talk politics, mostly locals that are angry with the new parking laws or things more or less important. old men gather in the morning around 7am and get their coffee and complain about their wives or gossip about their lives. lawyers come on their lunch break for a quick grilled cheese and slice of pie. back in my younger and wilder days, i frequented this little greasy spoon nightly (yes, nightly) for dinner. i got off of work late and didn’t have time to make dinner. plus, all of my friends worked there. this diner i loved so much had cheap fried egg sandwiches, pancakes, burgers, burnt coffee, and soups. the typical diner fare.

what was not typical diner food was a favorite soup of mine which appeared on the menu only thursday nights. this was by far the most exotic and well-tended item on the menu.”chicky” was the american way of saying “chicken avgolemono”, a greek soup consisting of shredded leftover chicken, salty and slow cooked broth, sour lemon, tempered eggs, and aborio rice. this soup is super filling and the flavors are simple and satisfying. eggs in the broth are simply a way to thicken the soup and add richness without adding cream.

we made ours without the aborio, but if you wish to use it, simply sautee the rice in a little butter before adding to the stock and cooking for recommended time. continue with the rest of the recipe after rice is completely cooked.

this recipe serves 4

chicky soup

2 roasted chicken breasts or other leftover chicken meat, shredded finely

4 cups chicken stock (i made mine, you could use pre-packaged)

juice from 1 lemon

2 eggs

pinch of salt

method: over med/high heat, get stock to a boil. here is where you would add the aborio if using, cooking until just tender. throw in chicken and let boil for 5 minutes or so with the lid off. this will steam the water out leaving a very flavorful liquid. allow to slightly thicken and liquid to absorb into chicken. if you really like a thick soup, use immersion blender to puree chicken into soup.

in separate large bowl, whisk eggs and lemon juice together.

carefully ladle hot soup one ladle at a time into egg mixture, whisking eggs very quickly. this will slowly bring the eggs up to the temp of the soup without scrambling them. continue until eggs are good and hot. add mixture back into pot and let everything cook over medium heat for 10 minutes or so.

serve with fancy bread, or a grilled cheese on wonder bread. whatever.

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greek gourmet

spanakopita

there comes a time in every person’s life when he or she eats something that she isn’t supposed to. i haven’t had grains in months and months. but it was worth it. i went all out at the greek gourmet, and it was worth it. i ate everything i could that i’m not supposed to have. is that what defines gluttony? hey, if you’re gonna do it, do it good.

spanakopita. yes, please. mike himself makes it from scratch, using his mother’s recipe. if you have never had spanakopita, may your maiden voyage into the realm of cheese, spinach, and phyllo be bestowed upon the greek gourmet. it is not unlike lasagna, but with thin, flaky pastry (phyllo) in place of noodles. 5 cheeses melt into paper-thin layers of phyllo, and sandwiched in the middle is more cheese and spinach. i love the way the crispness of delicate pastry competes with the salty, gooey cheese. i’ve eaten a lot of spanakopita in my lifetime, a lot.., and this may be the best i’ve had. -you know i love supporting local, family owned businesses, and this is exactly why.

lamb gyro

brian and i also split the lamb gyro. i had never eaten a meat based gyro before. as an ex-vegetarian, falafel was my bff. and though i do secretly miss falafel, a lamb gyro is what dreams are made of. the meat was so tender and perfectly seasoned, and atop the whole thing was a cool and creamy cucumber sauce. to end the feast (seriously, it was almost too much food for 2 of us!!), we couldn’t resist the flaky, honey drenched baklava (one of my favorite sweets of all time). it was super cheap, too! less than $10 fed the both of us!

other goodies include fresh homemade humus, greek yogurt, cheeses, really cute and tasty sweets like baklava, and quite a few specialty grocery odds and ends, like oils, olives, etc. there are plenty of options for vegetarians, as well.

the greek gourmet is located in squirrel hill on murray avenue. it’s a small deli with 5 or so seats. what’s that you say? you live in east liberty? perfect. you can pick up humus at the east liberty farmer’s market (every saturday morning), from mike himself. if you can’t make it to that, it is also sold at whole foods. yep! it makes the whole foods cut! we always get sun-dried tomato and feta humus. second only to mustard, it’s my favorite condiment of all time. i have to hide it from myself in the refrigerator, because once i spot it, i have to eat it until it is gone. you can visit pittsburgh urban spoon for more information or ratings, if my raving review wasn’t enough.

do you know the mushroom man?

rick and his son, eric

it’s rick! he and his sons eric (15) and dalton (18) sell me my goods every saturday morning at the east liberty farmer’s market. i knew i had to befriend rick after our first conversation, in which he was telling me about seeing “the decemberists” play in town a few months ago. i knew he was cool.

baskets and baskets and baskets of 'shrooms

rick and his sons are learning all about mushrooms from someone by the name of john cignota, who ran a course at the local food co-op on growing mushrooms. john sends rick off to the east liberty farmer’s market while he sells them from the lawerenceville farmer’s market on saturday mornings.

rick and his kids go mushroom hunting with john, and say in a good spot, they can find them growing every 6 miles or so. 6 miles!!!! think about that!! when it comes down to it, some real work goes into putting food on our tables. -and knowledge. you can’t just eat any mushroom you find. it takes some know how to spot safe ones, to know what they are. rick must be hip the amazing things his kids are learning when they’re out in the woods hunting for mushrooms. self sufficiency, life skills.. but also just spending some time in the woods with your dad is great (and rare for most people). they’re also learning how to grow their own mushrooms at home. how cool is that?

every week, they sell 20-30 lbs of fresh mushrooms, such as morel, chanterelle, shiitake, maitake, portobello, etc. each variety has its own unique taste. each has its own place in the culinary world. after practically robbing the farmer’s market every weekend, i dump out my loot, wash off my mushrooms, and fry them up in butter. that’s it, just butter. that’s all they need. they haven’t been sitting in the back of a semi truck for over a week, drying out and absorbing strange smells and flavors. these are pure, mushroomy mushrooms. my favorite to eat on its own is maitake. it is really meaty in texture, and it’s great with eggs.

i usually get a big paper lunch bag full for $5, which lasts through a few meals. i try to eat them within a few days so they don’t get yucky.

buttery samples

with his coleman grill right there at the farmer’s market, he fries them up to sample out to passersby. go get a few bites from him, he will be happy to talk to you and let you stand there and snack. rick reminds me every week to be sure to clean and cook them, don’t eat them raw. he said the best way to clean them is to dunk them in a big bowl of clean water, agitating to get all of the critters out. i always change the water and give them a second dunk to be safe. i then cut the mushrooms off of the trunk, and throw them into some hot butter and let them cook for 10 minutes or so. one of my favorite autumn dishes is roasted squash with buttery sheep’s head mushrooms. i also put them in  my omelette almost every morning.

here is a link to the east liberty farmer’s market, which includes a list of foods that can be purchased there. i’ll add that i for the past few weeks, an amish farmer has been selling his goat cheese there. we bought some white goat’s cheddar, which is tangy and delicious. he samples every cheese he carries, and will let you sample all of them and ask for seconds. what a nice guy.

i tend to do quite a bit of bragging about the east liberty farmer’s market. i really respect the smaller vendors out there that are bringing real food to my table.  so here is a big thank you to rick and his awesome mushrooms!

saturday morning loot!

when i was younger, i loved saturday mornings. if i didn’t have to wake up early to get to the ice arena for practice by 9, saturday
mornings were sleep in mornings. sleep in mornings meant sleep until 9, and watch cartoons all morning. now, this isn’t to say i was spoiled. i also remember that the rule was i had to be “up and around” by noon. this means out of pj’s. time to get stuff done. no loafing around the house on saturday afternoon. but the morning, this was my time. i remember thinking, “when i’m an adult, i’m gonna sleep in every saturday morning, and wear pj’s all morning, and watch cartoons all day if i want to”.

it didn’t work out like that. these days, i can’t sleep past 7 on a saturday morning. saturday is farmer’s market day! all the good stuff is gone by 9. i try to sleep. it doesn’t work. too much excitement going on down the street. i can’t lay here and sleep while someone else is buying my eggs! i need those eggs! come on, 18 free range eggs for $3.50?! where else am i gonna find that?

mr. taubsypuss loves new smells.

mr. taubsypuss inspecting my mushrooms. they are safe.

don’t even get me started on the mushrooms. seriously. $5. these things still got the dirt on ’em! i eat them every morning with my eggs, slice them into my salads, top my burgers with them.. they are beautiful. you can get some pretty cool shrooms from this guy, too. today we got a little sample of the chicken of the woods variety. yes, it tastes like chicken!

there are beautiful vegetables, fruits, flowers, herbs.. the list goes on. this is where i base my menu for the week. i pick out anything that looks fresh and interesting, and plan my cooking week around what i’ve picked up on saturday morning.

eggs, mushrooms, and meat are my regular staples, but i’ve also started buying my humus there. i have a humus guy. how great is that? it’s the best hummus. more on him later.

i sometimes try and base an entire meal around things i purchased at the farmer’s market. every meal turns into an ‘iron chef’ like challenge in my house. i take great pride on creating super fresh, healthy, and delicious meals centered around local ingredients. here is one of my favorites: slow roasted chicken breast with garlic roasted summer squash, asparagus, and tomatoes. everything local, including the garlic. everything on the plate from the farmer’s market, excluding the salt and pepper.

my local plate

my local plate

if you live in east liberty, shadyside, friendship, highland park, or any of those “east end” neighborhoods here in pittsburgh, you should really do yourself (and your community) a favor and drop in on a saturday morning. i know, you stayed up late last night and saturday is your only day to sleep in. but if i hear you complaining that “it’s too expensive to eat nice food”, then i’m going to have to tell you off about my 50 cent red bell peppers, or my $5.00 local chicken (yes a whole chicken). this is a budget friendly activity, and it feels great to participate in the community. need a halloween pumpkin? -no, don’t go to shop ‘n save, buy them from the farmers that work hard to bring them to you directly. they’re up at 5am on saturdays to haul all of their stuff in! they’re doing the work for you! all you have to do is get out of bed a little early and skip an hour of your saturday morning cartoons.

i’ll be posting more specific information on the vendors in the future. i obviously feel very strongly about supporting these people, and appreciate the nutritious foods and goods they supply me with.

click here for official details on the farmer’s market.