Introducing PCC’s New ECO-FRIENDLY Box

New PCC boxed lunch made from SFI certified source materials

New PCC boxed lunch made from SFI certified source materials

Earlier this year one of our paper suppliers changed ownership resulting in us having to rethink our boxed lunch.  It would have been easy enough to just have another company print the same box the same way, but we decided that it was time for a change.  Since enacting our green initiatives, we have tried to make business decisions with consideration to the environment and community.  How can we help the environment and benefit the local community with our boxed lunch.  The obvious answer is to buy a box made from eco-friendly, compostable material from a local supplier – easy right??  Not so much.  Finding a local manufacturer for paper products for this particular application – let alone eco-friendly, was not an easy search.   We did not know where to begin.   As our search fell to the backburner and our supply of boxes began to dwindle, the phone rang.  It was the Sustainable Business Network calling to help another local business to promote their new eco-friendly take out containers – are you kidding??  We have been a member of the Sustainable Business Network for a couple of years.  While we have little time to use all their services, we find the information they provide to be useful.  We also want to support and be a part of the local network of environmentally conscious businesses (http://www.sbnphiladelphia.org).  SBN introduced us to Chris Pearson of Union Packaging.

Union Packaging in Yeadon

Union Packaging in Yeadon

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Production line at Union Packaging

Union Packaging is great company (check them out – http://unionpkg.com/). They are a certified minority owned business that is located locally in Yeadon.   They employ a diverse workforce of 100 people and are committed to community involvement as well as sustainable business practices.  Chris came by with a large selection of the sustainable packaging and take-out containers his company offers.  Every shape and size imaginable – except the exact size we needed.  ‘No Problem’,   we will custom make it for you.   Now I am really interested.  Chris got back to us with the exact product we wanted, on SFI certified sourced materials.  SFI -Sustainable Forestry Initiative, is the world’s largest single forest certification standard, covering key values such as protection of biodiversity, species at risk and wildlife habitat; sustainable harvest levels; protection of water quality; and prompt regeneration.  Buying SFI certified products is a good idea, see for yourself – http://www.sfiprogram.org/.

PCC Box with SFI certification

PCC Box with SFI certification

Chris put everything together for us just as the last of our supplies ran out.   Best of all he provided competitive pricing making it a win all around.   The lesson here is – so much can be gained by applying green initiatives to even one small business decision.  We have a great new business partner,  Chris Pearson and Union Packaging – and we are helping the environment by providing a product made from SFI certified source materials.

Chris Pearson of Union Packaging

Chris Pearson of Union Packaging

Venice – The Last Stop on a Splendid Culinary Journey

 

 

1913 or 2013?  -  Timeless Venice

1913 or 2013? – Timeless Venice

Our trip is winding down.  We leave Canazei in Trentino with one last taste of that incredible speck for our breakfast.  Up over the mountain pass, down through the Dolomites, the last row of Alps and onto the plains and finally to the city on the sea – Venice.  It is hard not to be in awe by Venice.  Beautiful bridges, colorful architecture influenced by its long history of extensive trade the Byzantines, Muslims, Romans and the rest civilized world.   An ancient city with more history than we could possibly hope to even scratch the surface of in one short day.  So we decide – why stray too far from our mission  – the culinary exploration of Northeastern Italy.  After our bus (boat) ride into the city, we begin to wander aimlessly, taking in the sights and looking for interesting foods and a restaurant where we can have our last dinner.

Venician Canal

Venician Canal

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Wandering in Venice

Enjoying one last Furlan – please excuse the table cloth shirt

Enjoying one last Furlan – please excuse the table cloth shirt

Coming from an incredible sandwich city like Philadelphia, we sometimes take for granted how good we have it.  Travelling across the US and abroad can really make you appreciate the quality of our breads and meats as well as the great variety.  In fact, my brother and I have a running argument of Philly sandwiches vs. Roman – but that is the subject of another blog.  Venice is also a formidable sandwich city.  I was amazed at the variety of selections you could find all over the city.  Wraps – rolls – breads with anything you could think of on them.  Prosciutto & artichokes, cheese & mushrooms, grilled vegetables, grilled breads, flat breads, long rolls, various spreads  – all attractively displayed in a way that made we want to try each of them.  A difficult decision, but I try a prosciutto and artichoke – it is as good as it looks (I am starting to worry about my Philly vs Rome dispute).

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For dinner we want to try a true Venetian style restaurant.  Being right on the Adriatic, Venice has a bountiful selection of seafood on display around the city.  The decision is tough because there are just so many cool looking places.  We wander down alleyways in search of just the right spot.

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We finally find a small restaurant that looked perfect.  It is a small place in a dimly lit alleyway.  It looks like it could have been there for the last 100 years.  The waiter/owner recommended the menu and the wine.  A very good meal.  The squid entrée with squid ink may have possibly been the least appetizing looking dish I have ever ordered – however the taste told another story.

 

Seafood Mix

Seafood Mix

Sardines with Onions

Sardines with Onions

Pasta Americana – kids menu Italiano!!

Pasta  Amatriciana– kids menu Italiano!!

Squid in squid in sauce with polenta – ewwh

Squid with polenta – ewwh

The meal ended with a classic Venetian dessert of profiteroles, which are chocolate covered crème balls.  After dinner we finished off the evening with a last glass of cold glass of Prosecco for the hot night.  And just like that…our impromptu, last minute, unplanned  trip to Italy came to an end.  A great culinary experience.  A great historical exploration of WWI battlefields of my grandfather.  Also the time spent with my son, brother, niece, and nephew has given us a bond we will talk about for a lifetime.  We were able to delve deep into our culinary heritage and bring home a lot of inspiration to try all these dishes again.  The pursuit of this perfecting these dishes may one day be the motivation to bring us back.

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One final thank you to my brother Angelo for the planning and the passion he put into making this trip a memorable experience.

Austria and the Dolomites

The Dolomites

The Dolomites

It is day 6 of our tour of Northeast Italy, which we have now officially dubbed – ‘Never Eat on an Empty Stomach Tour’.  It is time to move on.  Out of Friuli, through Austria and Alto Adige, to Trentino and some hiking in the Dolomites.  Three incredible days in Timau at Albergo Matiz da Otto will be hard to top.  We leave Italy and enter Austria through the Plocken Pass.  We drive through the beautiful Tyrol Valley in Austria hoping to come across a nice bakery for classic Austrian pastries and hopefully a restaurant that serves Wurst for lunch.  As luck would have it, we found neither.  We stop in Sillian on the Eastern edge of the Tyrol Valley for lunch.  The Italian cuisine over the past six days has been great, but I am actually looking forward to some Austrian-German style cuisine for a change of pace.

Austrian Village Tyrol Valley

Austrian Village Tyrol Valley

Potatoes, Speck, herbs & eggs

Potatoes, Speck, herbs & eggs

Schnitzel with fries & cranberry

Schnitzel with fries & cranberry

Hunters Stew

Hunters Stew

The Gasthof Sillianer Wirt does not disappoint.  The dishes are real Austro-German meat & potato comfort food that we enjoy thoroughly.  Schnitzel & fries, spatzle – pork stew(hunters Stew), and potato, ham & egg combo.  A couple of Steiger beers some apple streudel and we officially & joyfully have overdone another meal on this trip.  Our first order of business will be to find a coffee shop.  We will need triple espressos to keep us alert on the mountain roads ahead.  It is an overcast day and the Dolomites are in the clouds as we cross back into Italy in the Alto Adige.  Despite the caffeine jolt, lunch has been lulling me to sleep even with the treacherous roadways.  It is the 4th week of June and it snowed here last night.  A snowball fight on the pass and we are awake again, and maybe even getting hungry as we descend into Canazei.

Snow covered pass in Dolomites

Snow covered pass in Dolomites

 

Canazei

Canazei

Canazei is a picturesque Italian Alpine village in Trentino in the Val Di Fassa.  In the winter it is a ski resort, and summer a base station for hiking Marmolada – the highest mountain in the Dolomites.  Because of the recent snow, our plans are foiled and we will need to come up with a new plan.   In the meantime, we are in Italy and there are many culinary treasures to discover.  We check into Hotel Soreghina, where the owner recognizes my brother and again we are given the VIP treatment.  With the hiking shut down, the hotel is somewhat empty, we have the place to ourselves.  We enjoy a nice dinner – Risotto Primavera.  A couple rounds of various grappas and we are back on track with a new plan for an alternate hiking route just west of Canazei.  I have done many hikes – but the Italians have it right.  First, no slogging up the base hills around the mountain to get to the good parts.  They take a ski lift or cable car up to the scenic trails – then they hike.

Cable car ride to hiking trails

Cable car ride to hiking trails

Incredible views hiking

Incredible views hiking

Next, along the trails they have Refugios.  A Refugio, meaning refuge in English, is an alpine lodge where you can stop and get a meal or a room for the night.  In fact, you can plan your hike to go from Refugio to Refugio for as far as you like.  The best part is the food at the Refugio’s is incredible – unlike the PB&J’s and ham sandwiches I had at the base camp of the Grand Canyon.  The best meal on the entire trip was at Refugio Vajolet  – 2500 meters in altitude.  The supplies and personnel are trucked up death defying roads and sometimes via helicopter.  I peeked into the kitchen and saw 7-8 chefs working around multiple enormous steaming pots, presumably for the polenta.  I ordered the polenta with wild mushrooms and gorgonzola, a very simple meal. The combination of incredibly fresh ingredients, perfect preparation and a Paul Bunyan sized appetite made this the best meal of the trip. The rest of our entourage agreed – their meals were great.  This is the only way to hike.  The best part is calorically, we burned more than we consumed – win win.

Awesome meal at Refugio Vajolet

Awesome meal at Refugio Vajolet

AJ had fresh taglietelle with meat ragout

AJ had fresh taglietelle with meat ragout

Incredible meal at 2500 Meters

Incredible meal at 2500 Meters

Two foods I discovered in Trentino are Speck and Grana Trentino.  Speck is similar to prosciutto – however it is lightly smoked.  It is used in many of the local dishes – with pastas, sauces, sautéed with vegetables.  We mainly ate it with the breakfast served at the hotel, sliced thinly– we couldn’t get enough.  We also stopped at a place where they made Grana Trentino.  Every region of Italy has its own aged cheese they use for grating – mainly Parmesan, Pecorino Romano and Grana.  Grana has been produced for 1000 years and is made from cow’s milk.  Gran Trentino has been granted its own D.O.P. (protected designation of origin).  There is nothing like tasting this cheese where it is produced.  It has a milder taste than parmesan, less sharp & grainy.  I can’t pass it up and I buy a large wedge to bring home.  Val Di Fassa is also known for the honey produced here.

Finding Grana Trentino

Finding Grana Trentino

We have one more night in Canazei, and another nice meal at Hotel Soreghina.  This stop in Val di Fassa has been interesting.  Our culinary exploration was geared more for the foods of our family heritage in Friuli, but the food from Trentino is interesting and worth some more investigation.  Our trip is winding down and we have one last stop before we go – Venice.

Risotto Primavera

Risotto Primavera

 

Timau – The Culinary Adventure Continues

Pal Piccolo – Italian and Austrian WWI reenactors honoring the memory of their relatives by hiking to the peak

At 7:00 AM sharp we awake.  We have no choice.  Everyone one in Timau wakes up at 7:00 AM to the deafening ring of the church bells – everyday.  I love the sound of the bells – but these are 50 feet from my window.  But it’s OK, because we need to get going.  We are crossing the border to Austria to climb to the WW1 battlefield of Freikofel.  It is a beautiful day, but like any mountain climb, it is best to be off the peak by the afternoon when storms are more likely to pass over.  The climb is steep at points, but we make it and the need for physical activity at this point in the trip is paramount.  The peak is lined with trenches and the mountainsides are dotted with caves.  It is amazing to see the enemy trenches are as close as 25 yards.  I find it hard to believe soldiers fought here for years – it is the middle of June and it is cold.  I can’t imagine it in the winter.  It has been almost 100 years since WW1, but we are finding lots of artifacts/souvenirs – bullets and shell fragments.  In the end, a very rewarding hike.  On the way down my 13 year old niece, Anna informs my 14 year old son, Angelo, that the drinking age for beer in Austria is 14.  So my son and I engage in a game of chicken where he tells me he will order a beer at the bottom and I inform him that I don’t care.  At the base of the hike there is an Austrian Gasthof where I discover my new favorite beer – Gosser.  It is welcome refreshment after the hours of hiking.  Angelo did order his beer – but we both decided I would finish it after he had a few gulps.

With most of the afternoon still ahead of us, we decided to head back to Italy to visit a mountain Refugio where smoked ricotta is made.  Here ricotta is smoked to increase the shelf life, giving it characteristics similar to ricotta salata.  In the summer months, cows from the valley are brought up into the mountains where the grasses eaten by the cows provide subtle variations in the flavor of the cheeses.  Pramosio Casera is a beautiful dairy farm high up in the mountains where Italians visit on a weekend or after a hike for a glass of wine or a hearty meal.  It is here where they make cheese, butter & yogurt.

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We drive for what seems like forever on a one lane dirt road up the mountainside until it opens up to a small valley just below the peaks.  It’s about 3 o’clock and there is a pretty good crowd.  On the menu there is gnocchi, polenta, frico, and homemade sausage.  We can’t resist and order up a couple of plates of gnocchi, along with some homemade sausage and polenta – just a light afternoon snack.

Gnocchi Pomodoro

Gnocchi Pomodoro

Sausage, Polenta & Montasio

Sausage, Polenta & Montasio

I am again awed by how good everything is – or maybe I am just very hungry after hiking all morning.  We enjoy with a nice glass of the house red wine and I feel like a short nap may be on the horizon.  Unfortunately it is Sunday and the cheese operation is closed, so we sample some of their flavored grappas then head back to Albergo Matiz for dinner.  Tomorrow we will be hiking another mountain peak, so I do not feel too guilty about our multiple meals.

Pal Piccolo

Pal Piccolo

Hiking to Pal Piccolo – Austria in background

Hiking to Pal Piccolo – Austria in background

Over the next 2 days Diego and Albergo Matiz continue to astound us.  Some of the highlights include Pasticcio, which is a kind of lasagna dish, but Diego served it with wild boar ragout.  Cervo con polenta – a local hunter had brought in some deer which was prepared as a stew and served with polenta .  Ravioli filled with radicchio and smoked ricotta, gnocchi prepared in a white sauce with speck (more on this later), and for dessert panna cotta with a fresh berry sauce.  Of course we had the Cjarsons daily.  Diego paired each dish with a perfect wine and followed each meal with his flavored grappas.  It was an incredible experience and we have already started dreaming of a return trip.  It is time to leave and head to the Dolomites, where we will do some long high altitude hikes in Italy’s most stunning mountains and tour Val di Fasso.  If you are ever in Northern Italy I highly recommend a stay at Albergo Matiz da Otto – https://www.facebook.com/ristorantedaotto

Cervo con polenta

Cervo con polenta

Gnocchi with Speck

Gnocchi with Speck

Chef’s Sampler Plate

Chef’s Sampler Plate

Palate cleansing radicchio sorbet

A river of ice melt runs through Timau

A river of ice melt runs through Timau

Angelo's first beer

Angelo’s first beer

Timau – An Alpine Culinary Treasure

Albergo Matiz da Otto – Diego Matiz in center

Albergo Matiz da Otto – Diego Matiz in center

One of the purposes of our trip, other than a culinary adventure, was to visit the WWI battlefields of my grandfather.  During WWI, my grandfather spent his military service on the Austrian front, high in the Carnic Alps at the battlefields of Freikofel and Pal Piccolo.  A few years back, my brother Angelo who is a retired US army colonel and military historian, researched and found the exact locations where my grandfather’s unit fought.  This search led him to Timau and Diego Matiz.

The Village of Timau

The Village of Timau

Timau is a tiny village  nestled high in the Alps close to the Austrian border.  Diego owns and operates Albergo Matiz da Otto where he serves local specialties to regional acclaim.  He is somewhat of a local celebrity who has traveled the world on trips that have become local legend.  He works tirelessly day & night at his hotel/restaurant saving and planning for another epic journey – next is Kilimanjaro.  Our plan was to spend 3 days in Timau hiking up to the mountain top battlefields – working up an appetite for Diego’s incredible dishes.  Having skipped a meal in Udine, we had plenty of time on the 2 hour ride to think about the possible culinary exploits ahead of us.  First on the list was Cjarsons.

Cjarsons

Cjarsons

Cjarsons can only be found in this region of Italy.  They are a cross between a ravioli and a pierogi.  The filling is a sweet & savory complex combination of potatoes, cheese, figs, cinnamon, cocoa, raisins and a long list of ingredients.  They are usually served in a butter sauce and sprinkled with smoked ricotta and cinnamon or sugar.  There is no standard recipe and each restaurant or household has its own version from family recipes handed down through the ages.  It has been ten years since I had this dish and the long ride gave us plenty of time to discuss possibilities – first plate?, main entrée?, wine parings?…

As we pulled up to Albergo Matiz, we could see Diego in his kitchen.  The window sill was packed with glass bottles of his famous flavored grappas steeping in the fleeting alpine valley sunshine.  We are right on time – dinner is being served.  Diego’s restaurant is a gem.  They prepare everything fresh from local ingredients.  Menus are designed daily based on what is available that day.  For the next three days we will be eating classic Friulan dishes prepared by Diego’s award winning chef, Stefano Buttazzoni.   We start with a first plate of the Cjarsons.  They are amazing – I plan to have them every night I’m here.  They pair perfectly with sauvignon blanc from Friuli.  As a second plate, I have the Frico and polenta.  The Frico is made with Montasio cheese and potatoes.  The polenta is made with a cornmeal I have never seen before – coarse yellow cornmeal flecked with red cornmeal.  It is rustic and delicious – it will be on my list of items to seek out when I return.  With our second plate we have a wine that can only be found in Friuli – a full bodied and peppery red wine made from local grapes called Shioppettino, a petite red grape that was brought back from the brink of extinction.  For dessert I have the apple strudel with pine nuts and raisins – not a what you might expect in Italy, but we are just a few miles from Austria and its influence can be seen in all the cuisine.  Finally, Diego treats us to his homemade grappas – flavored with fruits, & local herbs picked by Diego.  They are unlike any grappas I have ever had – a real highlight of the trip.  Again sleep comes easy with grappa and the clean alpine air – tomorrow we cross into Austria to hike to Freikofel.

Frico

Frico

Delicious Apple Strudel

Delicious Apple Strudel

Day 3 – Culinary Adventure in Northern Italy: San Daniele and Udine – Prosciutto and Frico

Cathedral of San Michele Arcangelo in San Daniele

Cathedral of San Michele Arcangelo in San Daniele

Day 3 – Well fed and well rested, it’s time to venture out of our ancestral villages, further into Friuli.  Our first stop is for a light friulano style lunch in San Daniele.  San Daniele is known for its prized prosciutto which has been produced in the city for centuries.  The unique taste of the prosciutto is attributed to 12 months of aging in the perfect mixture of the dry alpine mountain air and the warm humid Adriatic air.  Proscuitto di San Daniele has a slightly sweeter mild taste than the more famous prosciutto di Parma.  It is best enjoyed ‘crudo’ (uncooked) sliced on a platter. Our family has been visiting the same proscutteria since the 1980’s.  The same gentleman has sliced our prosciutto on a classice Berkel hand cranked slicer.  The experience is incredible each time with prosciutto so fresh and subtle tasting – unlike anything at home.   We enjoy with the local Montasio cheese, olives, marinated mushrooms and a crisp glass of Tocai Friulano wine.    It is so sublime we order a second platter (and I pop a my second of Lipitor of the day).  Our light lunch has turned into two 17” platters of sliced prosciutto amongst five of us.  For dessert we have Gubana – the Italian version of a fig newton.

Prosciutto sliced on a classice Berkel hand cranked slicer

Prosciutto sliced on a classice Berkel hand cranked slicer

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Proscuitto from San Danielle

Proscuitto from San Danielle

Next – on to Udine, the defacto capital of Friuli.  Udine is steeped in history. A very old city with architecture shaped by the confluence of Roman, Venetian, Austro-Hungaria, Slovenian and Croatian occupations.  There are Venetian style plazas connected by streets lined with Austrian/German looking buildings.

 

My Son A.J. in Udine

My Son A.J. in Udine

The food from Udine is very Fruilan and different from what one might expect from Italian cuisine.  The picture below from a restaurant in Udine sums up the Friulano cuisine served here.

Classic Friulano Dishes

Classic Friulano Dishes

Polenta, seafood from the Adriatic, cairsons (more on this later), gulash & stews and frico – fried cheese.  Frico is a staple dish in this part of Friuli.  It is Montasio cheese that is pan fried so the outside is crispy and the inside is warm and melted.

Frico – Pan Fried Montasio Cheese

Frico – Pan Fried Montasio Cheese

My last trip here I had it served with polenta.  A luscious dish that I am convinced took me a week to digest.  For the first time on this trip, we are not hungry.  We will be having a feast tonight in Timau, so we take it easy.  We decide that we must at least have a fresh Moretti Beer – since it is brewed here – or so we thought. Since my last trip, Morretti had been acquired by Heineken and we could not find a single bottle or draft in the entire city – the Italians can be unforgiving.  Along the way during our Moretti search, we came across a Sardinian Festival.  Streetside vendors featured cheeses, meats and dishes that are typical in Sardinia.  We participated in a pasta making lesson where we were taught how to make common eggless fresh Sardinian pasta called Filei.  I am always amazed at how easy fresh pasta is, yet when at home I rarely make it.  I vow to make this when I return.

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Pasta Making Lesson

My niece, Anna is a pasta making natural, she had it figured out in no time.

My niece, Anna is a pasta making natural, she had it figured out in no time.

No frico and no Moretti, but none the less a good visit to Udine.  Next we head deep into the Carnic Alps near the Austrian border, to Timau for WWI battlefield visits and a 3 day stay with Diego at the amazing Albergo Matiz.

…..I did make the pasta when I returned.

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And it is a lot of work…but worth it.

Thanksgiving Meal For The Needy – PCC 5000

PCC employees and family members volunteered to help with the event

PCC employees and family members volunteered to help with the event

In the spirit of giving back to the community, last year we launched the charitable arm of our company which we dubbed –   PCC 5000. The ultimate goal of this endeavor is to provide 5000 meals to our city’s neediest and homeless people.  In the past we have always donated to charitable organizations and events, but we wanted to host an event of our own.  Last year we teamed up with Bridging the Gap Ministries and provided a Thanksgiving feast for 100 homeless people – see our blog: https://philadelphiacateringblog.com/2012/12/.

Bridging the Gap Ministries provided a hearty helping of spiritual support

Bridging the Gap Ministries provided a hearty helping of spiritual support

The event was such a success we decided to do it again this year.  PCC employees finished worked on Wednesday, clocked out and got back to work, donating their time doing the prep work for the Thanksgiving meal.

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PCC kitchen staff donating their time to prepare the meal

Family members of employees also joined in to help serve the food at the event.   A hot satisfying meal was just what was needed for such a cold wet and blustery day.  One hundred needy people were served, and many left with containers full of seconds for later.

 There is much to give thanks for. Right now I am thankful for our generous and caring staff and family members who helped make this possible by taking time out of their busy Holiday weekend to help the underprivileged.  200 down – 4800 to go!

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Throughout the year we get many calls for donations. While it is not possible to help in all cases, we do our best to contribute when we can.  This year in addition to PCC 5000 we partnered and contributed to the following events.  They are all great causes.  Check them out and help out if you can!

 

 

We provided lunch for 80 volunteers who, along with City Year, cleaned up Smith Park in South Philadelphia

We provided lunch for 80 volunteers who, along with City Year, cleaned up Smith Park in South Philadelphia