The Food Column: For brunch, look no further than the pantry

Serving up a delicious brunch using ... ingredients from food pantry shelves?

Ten local chefs are preparing to do just that from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday at the New Hazlett Theater on the North Side.

Jay Poliziani, director of Northside Common Ministries, said the pantry staff scanned the shelves one day and made a list of the standard items they always have in stock: canned vegetables, peanut butter, canned tuna, cereals, rice and the like. Those items comprise the list the chefs are required to choose from when determining the main ingredients in their brunch dishes.

The 10 chefs will serve a crowd of up to 300 guests, who will then vote on their favorite dishes. The chef with the most votes will receive an engraved frying pan.

The "Food Pantry Brunch Challenge," as it's known, debuted last year when the Northside Common Ministries advisory team wanted to plan a unique event to raise funds and awareness for its food pantry, which currently serves nearly 1,000 people per month, up from 750 two years ago.

Last year's winning chef was Jeeraporn Chaisri, owner of South Side's Thai Me Up, who concocted a Thai sticky rice dish with canned fruit. Other chefs last year served up French toast with canned fruit, a frittata made with canned vegetables, and several noodle dishes. Although chefs had to use food pantry ingredients as their featured ingredients, they were allowed to add spices and staples like eggs or milk.

Ms. Chaisri said she found it difficult last year to develop a recipe using food pantry ingredients, but this year it was easier because she still had some leftover ideas. Her entry last year was dessert-like; this year she has invented an appetizer, Red Curry Corn Cakes, using canned corn.

Last year's event was held at Bistro to Go on the North Side, but in a single year the event outgrew its space, so this year it has moved to the larger New Hazlett Theater. Chefs will occupy the stage, and the Pittsburgh Banjo Club will provide entertainment from the catwalk. The crowd, after filling plates at the chefs' tables on stage, will sit in the theater seats. Guests will also be able to bid on auction items, including cooking classes and restaurant gift certificates.

Other chefs this year will be from Aramark at PNC Park, Bistro to Go, Big Red Room Cafe, James Street Gastropub and Speakeasy, NOLA on the Square, Sonoma Grille, Springboard Kitchens, Thai Gourmet and other establishments. Each chef will bring one dish for competition and one dish representative of his or her establishment's regular menu, "so no one will go away hungry," Mr. Poliziani said.

Tickets, at $25 each, are available by calling 412-323-1163 or e-mailing


Bulgarian cuisine: Bulgarian/Macedonian National Educational & Cultural Center President Patricia French prepares a meal that reflects the heritage and culture of Bulgaria, including stuffed peppers (see recipe), spinach soup and palachinke, a type of crepe. 11 a.m. or 1 p.m. Tuesday at Heinz History Center, Strip District. Free with museum admission, but reservations are required. Call 412-454- 6373 or e-mail with your name, phone number and the time of the session you wish to attend.

Martin Yan: The master Chinese chef conducts demos Feb. 23 at two Giant Eagle Market District stores: 11 a.m. in Pine and 3 p.m. in Bethel Park. Free, but register ahead:

Ice cream class for teens: Students ages 11 to 16 can learn the basics of ice cream making and take home their creations. 9 a.m. to noon Monday (Presidents' Day) at Sewickley Confectionery. $60 ($45 for members of Sweetwater Center for the Arts). To register: 412-741-4405.


Wine & Beer Tasting: Wines and craft beers for tasting, buffet dinner and silent auction to benefit St. Katharine Drexel School in Bethel Park. 6:30 p.m. Feb. 23 at Rolling Hills Country Club, McMurray. $60 per person or $110 per couple. Registration required: 724-745-4084.

An Evening with an Urban Winemaker: Tour The Pittsburgh Winery and enjoy guided wine tastings and light fare with owner Tim Gabor. 6 p.m. Feb. 25 at The Pittsburgh Winery, Strip District. $50 per person (discount available for members of Women for WineSense and their guests: see RSVP by Feb. 23: 412-390-4532.

Made in USA Choco and Beer Tasting: Six beer samples and an assortment of chocolates per person. 7:30 p.m. next Thursday at Hough's, Greenfield. $35 per person; 412-586-5944.

Pie hike

Cherry pie hike: Hear a lecture about George Washington, enjoy some cherry pie and coffee, and walk a trail in Washington's footsteps on the Old Venango Trail. 9 a.m., 11 a.m. or 1 p.m. Feb. 23 at the Old Stone House, Slippery Rock. Reservations required: 724-283-0191.

Call for bakers

"Let Them Eat Cake," the annual fundraiser for The Midwife Center in the Strip District, seeks amateur and professional bakers to enter cakes in its competition, which will be held May 18 at the Pittsburgh Opera.

This year's theme is "5001: A Baby Odyssey" in anticipation of the 5,000th baby to be born with this practice since it opened more than 30 years ago. Cakes can be entered in "Decorated" and "Taste" categories. For decorated cakes, moving parts will be permitted for the first time in the event's history. For cakes to be judged on flavor, the use of innovative and futuristic baking techniques and ingredients is encouraged.

Winning bakers will receive Whole Foods gift certificates and handcrafted serving plates. For entry forms, go to or call 412-321-6880. Entry deadline is April 1.

Stuffed Peppers (Pulnini Chushki)

Patricia French will demonstrate this dish as part of a Bulgarian cooking demo on Tuesday at the Heinz History Center.

-- Rebecca Sodergren

  • 12 medium cubanelle peppers

  • 2 medium onions, finely chopped

  • 4 tablespoons margarine

  • 1 teaspoon red paprika

  • 2 pounds ground beef

  • 1/2 cup rice (uncooked)

  • 2 teaspoons salt

  • 1/2 teaspoons black pepper

  • 1/2 cup flour

  • 2 cups tomato juice

Cut the tops off the peppers and remove seeds, leaving the peppers whole. Rinse peppers in cold water. Saute onions in margarine and add red paprika. Combine ground beef, rice, onion mixture, salt and black pepper. Fill peppers with meat mixture. Dip top of filled pepper into flour. Shake off excess flour. Line peppers in a 13-by-9-inch baking pan. Pour tomato juice over peppers. Cover baking pan with aluminum foil. Bake at 350 degrees for 21/2 hours.

-- Patricia French

Rebecca Sodergren: and on Twitter @pgfoodevents.


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