Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Superbowl Sweet, Nutty & Crunchy Turtle Corn

Thinking about what "snacky" things to make for Sunday's Superbowl had me reminiscing a bit. As I considered making a big batch of Turtle Corn (among the regular wings and guac and such), it harkened me back to the days when the girls were in college. 

Care packages with tins of this crisp, crunchy and chewy, caramel, chocolate and toasted pecan confection would be either mailed to one of the girls as a surprise or sometimes tucked into the backseat for an extra special bonus during a visit from mom and dad as a sweet reminder of home. It's been a long time since I made it for the girls (it's been a long time since they were in college!), but I did pull the old recipe out again recently.

Just a couple of weekends ago, I held a special brunch for a special bunch of friends. You guessed it, Turtle Corn made the cut for the menu and held a special spot on the dessert buffet. 

Turtle Corn in a treasured Fisher's Popcorn tin from Ocean City last year. (Also pictured, Hot Curried Cashews, Gingerbread Figgy Pudding Dark Rum Trifle, Blacktop Marble Cheesecake)

Even though I did just make it for a crowd, it's the perfect casual Superbowl snack...and any leftovers are always appreciated at work! Thinking of what to serve your guests for your own big Superbowl party? Turtle Corn might be just what you're looking for!

Turtle Corn

  • 4 quarts popped popcorn, checked well for unpopped or partially popped kernels and toss those away...you only want those big, beautiful, fully popped and fluffy pieces! (I use mushroom popcorn these days because they're bigger and fuller like the premium popcorn places use. Amazon, of course, carries it.)

  • 3 C sugar
  • 1 C water
  • 1 C light unsulphered molasses
  • 6 T butter
  • 4 T apple cider vinegar
  • 1 t salt
  • 1 t baking soda

  • 1 pound pecan halves, toasted in the oven at 300 degrees until warmed and fragrant - watch carefully so they don't burn
  • 6 oz chocolate chips, melted

Prepare to put this together quickly as the caramel mixture will harden in a hurry. Put the popcorn and toasted pecans into a very large container - I use a canning kettle or a crab pot - before you start the caramel. Also prepare 2 large rimmed cookie sheets by buttering them lightly. 

In a large, deep, heavy bottomed pot, combine water, molasses, butter, vinegar and salt. Cook over medium high heat until your candy thermometer reaches 260 degrees (hard ball stage). 

Remove from heat and stir in baking soda. Mixture will bubble up and then turn "creamy." (This is why you use such a large pot, you don't want to risk having this boil over on your stove or on YOU!) Once the bubbling subsides and the mixture well combined, immediately pour it over the waiting popcorn and pecans. Using a long wooden or metal spoon - not plastic, stir and mix until the popcorn is completely covered. Be careful not to touch the caramel, it will be one nasty burn, I assure you.

Remember those buttered, rimmed cookie sheets? Immediately turn the caramel corn onto the two cookie sheets, dividing equally. Use your spoon to spread the mixture on the cookie sheets. Let the caramel corn cool completely. 

Once cooled, break into pieces and drizzle with half the melted chocolate. Let the chocolate set, turn the pieces over and drizzle with the remaining chocolate. Let set and dry completely before storing in an airtight container or large ziptop bags.

This is the "mushroom" popcorn I used from Amazon. "Mushroom" refers to the shape of the popcorn.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Christmas Vacation, Edible Souveniers and Gypsy Kielbasa Unstuffed Cabbage

After a refreshing break, I'm back in gear once again and ready to go grab the New Year for all it's worth. (Ciao 2014, glad to see YOU in the rearview mirror!) 

This post might just as well be titled "What I Did On My Winter Vacation" and it's complete with lots of photos. Be grateful there isn't a slide show ala the 50's and 60's! (At least I would have served up some decent party foods and more than a few cocktails to make for an interesting evening.)

Where did I go? Baltimore. Yes, once again. It's so close and there is SO much going on all over! We visited old favorite spots and checked out new (to us, anyway) restaurants and bars...one we felt so comfortable in, we went back the next night! (Yes, I'm talking about YOU, Rye!)

Come on! Let's go on a guided tour. I just wish you could be feeling the warm sun and 60 degree weather we had IN DECEMBER(!) nearly the entire time we were there. Once we're done, there will be a new recipe for an easy, comfort food kinda dinner for the fam or company. Ready? Let's go!

No, it didn't take long to hit our favorite spot...you all know by now it's Bad Decisions. Let it be known that we DID check in to the Admiral Fell Inn first and even had a quick bite across the street before entering.

Really. There was food involved too...Ale Mary's is KNOWN for their tots! We enjoyed the Reuben tots....YUM!

Okay, I digress...back to Bad Decisions. AND Ostrowski's Home Made Sausage! John Reusing, owner of Bad Decisions, bought the sausage factory next door recently. Along with the famous Ostrowski family recipes, one massive smoker came along with the deal. What a find for the bar famous for Beer and Bacon nights! 

Kimber and I, and our dear friends Marti and Meredith, were favored with a private tour of the historic shop along with some excellent sampling. We left with containers of Sriracha sauerkaut, gypsy kielbassa (LOTS of black pepper!) and good spicy and smoky andouille.

Ostrowski's by night. (Photo credit: John Reusing)

On to the next stop!

Rye (see above, we stopped here BOTH nights in town!) is sexy as hell, if you're a cocktail afficianado. We are. Don't miss one of Doug and Dan's classic or original creations. Obviously, with a visit both Friday and Saturday nights, Kimber and I are fans. BIG fans! 

Tots seemed to be the noshing theme of the night. On the way back to the hotel, we made a stop at a new-to-us spot on South Broadway. 

Look at the size of the crab lumps in these Crabby Tots at Alexanders's Tavern! And for me, they have an extensive gluten-free menu. Apparently that's what happens when both the owner AND chef are celiac. 

Back to the hotel for a good rest....LOTS to do tomorrow!

Good morning, Fells Point! You're beautiful! (The view from our windows...not too shabby, eh?)

Starting the day at Slainte (where soccer is religion!)...and yes, a substantial breakfast followed. The housemade corned beef hash was particularly incredible! (Note to self...more effort must be made on photographing food, not just cocktails.) 

And now, our morning walk.

Dragon boats at the Inner Harbor. Notice the National Aquarium in the background?

Um...the Chesapeake. Duh.

From there, we stopped at shops galore and walked along the water the entire way back to Fells Point. Such a walkable area! Along the way, we noticed Brian Voltaggio's Family Meal nestled into the Power Plant by the other side of the aquarium. Temporary signs were in place and it looked as if it were ready to open at any time. After we got home, I saw that was their opening day. Missed opportunity! (The Frederick, MD Family Meal is a favorite spot of Kimber's and mine to stop on the way back to Pittsburgh.) 

Of course, our walk included a pause at The Horse You Came In On...complete with a wee sample of the Jack Daniels vanilla infusion. Happy moment WITH live music during the day!

Once back at the hotel, it was time for a nap before heading out once more. On the way to dinner at Lobo, there were a few dalliances at familiar watering stations along the way; Riptide By The Bay ("where the locals lounge"), the Waterfront Hotel (if you watched Homicide any time during its long run, this is the bar the cops bought). 

With the sun starting to lower in the sky, it was a cool, crisp walk to Canton on the far side of the harbor. And absolutely lovely.

And there was this "sailing" down Aliceanna Street heading for Canton. Captain James Landing is quite the landmark!

At last, we arrived at our destination for our evening's repast. Lobo is a new and thoroughly delightful restaurant on the scene in the Fells Point/Canton area of Baltimore. It came highly recommended by John Reusing, the owner of both Bad Decisions and Ostrowski's. He was SO right!

One gorgeous charcuterie board at Lobo! (BTW, Lobo = the Spanish word for Wolf...and the restaurant is on  the corner of Aliceanna and WOLF Streets!)

Crab fingers in the dead of winter and luscious shrimp cocktail. Oh, and a kickass cocktail to boot!

A slow walk back to the hotel, another stop at Bad Decisions (a GOOD decision), and nitey nite.

Good morning, Baltimore! (Cue song from Hairspray). No beautiful sunrise this morning. It was dreary. Who cares, we'd experienced warm 60 degree weather the entire trip and rain on the way home would be no big deal. And from here on we'd be driving to our destinations anyway. We had reservations for brunch at the esteemed Woodberry Kitchen in Hampden awaiting!

Nope, that's not Woodberry Kitchen. It IS the kitschy and delightful Cafe Hon in Hampden, home of Honfest. We were running early and stopped for a cuppa Joe.

Look who was waiting for us inside! Who knew Elvis was an ugly Christmas sweater fan?!

Finally at Woodberry Kitchen with a brunch cocktail. We HAD to, it was Doctor's Orders! (Name of the cocktail, really! It included carrot shrub, so you KNOW it was good for you.)

Well, look at that...I remembered to take a pic of our food. Cheese grits on the right, and on the main plate, housemade maple sausage and their own bacon. The toast was the most wonderful gluten-free bread I've ever had. Owner/chef Spike Gjerde's wife is celiac so they KNOW their GF!

Once full and happy, we headed for one last stop before hitting the road. We always peruse the aisles of the local spirits stores looking for the new and unusual.

What an extensive collection of wines, spirits, beers, bitters, charcuterie...everything you'd ever need for your very own party extrordinaire!

Well, look at that. Right in the heart of one of the hippest areas of Baltimore, we found a little bit of Pittsburgh. Hello, Wigle!

So cool finding a bit of the 'Burgh in the heart of Baltimore. And now, since I brought back a bit of Baltimore to the 'Burgh, the promised recipe using our treasured Sriracha sauerkraut and Gypsy sausage from Ostrowski's. Don't you just love delicious, edible souvenirs?!    

Gypsy Kielbasa Unstuffed Cabbage

  • 1/2 head of cabbage, roughly chopped
  • 3/4 of a large onion, diced
  • 1 LARGE potato, scrubbed, peel left on and sliced thinly

  • 1 lb lean ground beef
  • 3 T minced onion
  • 1 T Crazy Salt
  • 3 T jalapeno ketchup (Heinz makes it and we can't live without it!)
  • 1 1/2 t. Worcestershire sauce

  • 1 lb Ostrowski's Sriracha sauerkraut, drained - RESERVE JUICE* - optional, regular sauerkraut or add Sriracha to a pound of fresh sauerkraut to taste (or wait for John to get online ordering up and running for Ostrowski's!)
  • 1 lb fresh, Ostrowski's unsmoked gypsy kielbassa, fried until browned on the outside and sliced into rounds - again, use regular unsmoked or wait for online ordering at Ostrowski's!
  • 1 can fire roasted tomatoes

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

First, mix together the filling ingredients: ground beef through Worcestershire sauce. Set aside.

In a lasagna or other casserole dish, layer the diced cabbage, diced onion and sliced potatoes. Dollop beef mixture on top. 

Dollops of filling while the dish is in progress.

Cover with sauerkraut, tomatoes & rounds of kielbassa. Cover dish securely with foil and bake for 2 1/2 hours. Uncover and bake another 20 minutes. Check to be sure the potatoes and cabbage are cooked thoroughly and give it another half hour if not soft and tender. Let sit 15 minutes before serving. 

Makes great leftovers!

*Why reserve the sauerkraut juice? For picklebacks, of course! What's a pickleback? A shot of Jameson IMMEDIATELY followed by a shot of picklejuice, or in this case, sriracha sauerkraut juice. Don't knock it 'til you've tried it. 

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Have A Figgy Old Fashioned Christmas!

'Tis the season for all things figgy. Figgy puddings, trifles, cookies and such just seem to fill the Christmas bill.

It's also the time for cocktails redolent with the spices and deep, rich flavors we associate with the season. In the spice vein, that might include cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, cardamom and allspice, while in the classic holiday fruits category, raisins, figs, dates, oranges, cranberries and the like would qualify. Which brings me to this year's Dinner Plan-it holiday cocktail, the Figgy Old Fashioned.

Made with a Black Mission fig, warm spice simple syrup, bourbon (or rum perhaps for yet another, sweeter twist) and kissed with a touch of orange bitters, it's a cocktail that will have you remembering Christmases of old by a crackling fire with those you love. Cheers, friends...lots of Christmas cheer to all of you!

Figgy Old Fashioned

  • 1/2 oz fig simple syrup* 
  • 2 dashes Regan's orange bitters
  • 2 oz good bourbon - I used Bulleit or a good spiced rum like Pittsburgh's own Maggie's Farm for a sweeter cocktail
  • 2 Amarena Fabri or Luxardo cherries - reserve one for garnish
  • 2 strips fresh orange peel - reserve one for garnish
  • 1 or 2 whole cloves for garnish

In a cocktail mixing glass, muddle one cherry and the simple syrup together. Add spiced rum and stir well. Strain into Old Fashioned glass (what else would you use?!) over a large ice cube and stir well, add the bitters, twist the peel over the surface of the drink and lightly swipe the orange side of the peel around the rim of the glass. Garnish with another cherry and a clove studded orange peel.


* Fig Simple Syrup: 1 C sugar, 1 C water, 1/2 C dried Black Mission figs - cut in halves or quarters, 3 green cardamom pods - cracked lightly, 1 cinnamon stock - 4" long, 4 whole cloves. 

In a small pot, bring sugar and water to a boil and all the rest of the ingredients. Immediately reduce heat to bring the contents down to a simmer and continue simmering for 5 minutes. Let cool in pot, then strain the liquid into a small bottle. You're all ready to make cocktails now!

NOTE: Try using big, plump Medjool dates (be sure to remove the big pits in the center before adding to the pot) instead of figs if you wish...equally fabulous!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Saged Potato Dumpling Turkey Vegetable Soup

Today's recipe didn't start out to be a "Quickie," but the potato dumplings were such a snap to put together it ended up as just that.

The actual soup, on the other hand, can be as quick or slow as you wish it to be. This time, I made my turkey stock from scratch, the slow way. Next time I may just use good turkey or chicken stock from a carton and make it a true quickie.

All I added to the stock were fresh green beans, small cuts of carrot, slivers of celery, cubes of red and white potatoes (with the skins on for color and the vitamins and minerals!) and lots of leftover turkey meat. 

The soup itself was put together and cooked the day before I planned to serve it. We all know soups and stews are better the next day, right? By the way, that's what makes this a quickie...you make the soup the day before and make the dumplings only the day you serve it!

Back to those potato dumplings...the first time saving step is that you use leftover mashed potatoes. Who doesn't have leftover mashed potatoes after Thanksgiving or Christmas?! When it was almost dinnertime the next day, I got going on the dumplings. 

To build savory stuffing flavor right into the dumplings, I sauteed celery and onion in butter until soft, added dried sage, poultry seasoning, flour, an egg and a little salt and pepper and the dumpling batter was ready to drop gently into simmering soup. Once they all floated prettily to the top, it was done.

And there you have it, a deliciously easy way to use up the last bits of Thanksgiving (or Christmas!) in this simple, satisfying and thrifty post-holiday quickie. Enjoy!

Saged Potato Dumpling Turkey Vegetable Soup

Soup (make this the day before the dumplings):
  • 4 quarts turkey stock, either homemade or a good packaged one - I like poultry seasoning added to the stock, but that's up to you
  • 3 C fresh green beans cut into 1" pieces (or use frozen!)
  • 4 medium potatoes, scrubbed and cut into cubes - leave the skins on for vitamins and minerals (I used both red and white potatoes for color and to use up what I had on hand)
  • 3 stalks celery, cut into thin slivers
  • 3 medium carrots, peeled, cut into coins
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 4 C leftover turkey pieces - for us, it's usually dark meat and errant pieces of white meat that didn't make it into sandwiches...good way to use up the whole bird when your gang prefers the white meat!

Bring the stock to a boil in a large soup pot, add all the veggies and the turkey, then reduce the heat to bring the stock down to a simmer. Cover and let the soup simmer for an hour or so, cool and refrigerate overnight IN the soup pot.

Dumplings (before dinner the next day):
  • 1/2 T butter
  • 2 T onion, minced
  • 2 T celery, minced
  • 1 1/2 t poultry seasoning
  • 1/2 t ground sage
  • 1/2 t salt
  • generous amount of freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 3/4 C leftover mashed potatoes, brought to room temperature
  • 2/3 C flour - I used Namaste gluten-free all purpose flour to make these GF
  • 1 egg
Before you start making dumplings, put the pot of soup you made yesterday on the stove and bring to a simmer.

In a small skillet, melt butter and gently saute the onion and celery until tender, but not browned. Add poultry seasoning, sage, salt & pepper. Saute a minute more while stirring to awaken the aromas...it will smell like stuffing in your kitchen all over again! (That's a good thing around here!) Remove from the heat and let cool while putting the dumplings together.

In a large bowl, mix together the room temp mashed potatoes, flour, salt and pepper and the egg until thoroughly combined. Add the cooled veggies and mix again until thoroughly combined. Now you're ready to drop the dumplings into the waiting, simmering soup.

Using a spoon, take a small amount of dough (maybe a tablespoon each), roll each spoonful into a ball, then drop each into the gently simmering soup. Continue until all the dough is gone or make just as many or few as you want for the soup. (If you don't use all the dough, you can refrigerate it and use it for pan-fried dumplings the next day as a side dish.)

Once all the dumplings have risen to the surface of the soup, give them one more minute and then the soup and dumplings are ready to serve.

NOTE: You can easily make this with a leftover roast chicken!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Cinnamon Bourbon Cranberry Sauce

The cranberry. Know what I like about that festive little Christmas red berry that brightens the holidays? Everything.

The tiny garnet orbs are tart little gems (they DO remind me of garnets and rubies!) that help us celebrate both Thanksgiving and Christmas by way of sauces, jellies, desserts, breads, salads and in stuffings, roasts, chops, stews and such, too. So versatile, they do double duty for both sweet and savory dishes equally well.

When the kids were small, we used to string fresh cranberries to decorate our Christmas tree. It kept their little fingers busy while the resultant loops and scallops of red were gorgeous on our tree! Best of all, the kids really felt a part of making our holiday special. Now, everyone's too busy to sit and string cranberries for hours. I miss those times. 

Kimber may not be stringing cranberries these days, but she is the chief cranberry cooker in our family. Every year she comes up with something new in a cranberry sauce to brighten our table and our tastebuds. This year, her sweet and tart little Thanksgiving number was soooooo good, we think it was the best cranberry sauce rendition ever. Really...who doesn't love a kick of bourbon in their cranberry sauce?!

Christmas menu planning has already begun in our house...have you started your next holiday menu yet? Maybe you and your own family might just enjoy this cinnamon-y, orange-y, slightly boozy, sweet and tart cranberry sauce just as much as we did.   

Cinnamon Bourbon Cranberry Sauce

  • 1 C sugar
  • 1/2 C water
  • 2 sticks cinnamon, use nice and fresh sticks that are the 4-5" size
  • 12 oz bag of fresh cranberries (Did you know the test for a fresh cranberry is to drop it on the counter? If it bounces, it's fresh!)
  • 1/4 C bourbon - Buffalo Trace in this case
  • 1 orange, both zest and juice - zest the outside of the orange first and then juice the naked orange halves
  • 1/2 C golden raisins

In a large, deep, heavy bottomed pot, stir together the water and sugar, add the cinnamon sticks and bring to a boil. Immediately lower heat to medium and let simmer until the mixture develops a medium caramel color. Stir occasionally until it comes up to color - maybe 15 minutes, more or less - then add cranberries, bourbon, raisins, orange juice and zest. It may be a little difficult at first, but stir until mixture is smooth and comes to a boil. 

Immediately reduce the heat to low and cook until the cranberries have popped and the sauce has thickened. Take out the cinnamon sticks carefully with tongs so you don't burn your delicate fingers! Let cool to room temp before serving. You can make this a day or two ahead.

NOTE: Yeah...this makes amazing ice cream topping!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Maryland Crab And Spinach Mac N' Cheese Lasagna

The past and the now. Old and new. A new recipe with familiar roots. With all of the preceding, there was first a history that led to the present and so it is with today's recipe.

Back in the early days of Phillips Restaurant in Ocean City, Maryland...back when Phillips offered some of the best seafood in town...there was a particular crab dish my sister, Jeanie, and I couldn't get enough of - Crab au Gratin.

Crab au Gratin was a  decadent dish of huge crab lumps and nothing else but a blanket of rich,  cheddary sauce cuddling the crab. No fillers, no extraneous ingredients hidden anywhere, just simple cheesy crabmeat. Perfection. And then Phillips changed. Their crab was brought in from all over the world instead of remaining locally sourced. The bigger Phillips got, the less we enjoyed the food. We sought better and went elsewhere.

In the intervening years since our crab and cheese indulgences, lobster mac n' cheese became a thing. Aha, another variety of crustacean and cheese sauce! Would it be as wonderful as long lamented Crab au Gratin? It wasn't...at least the version I had wasn't. Instead of a beautifully browned and crusty top layer of cheese sauce, what came on my plate was more like stovetop mac and cheese with bits of lobster hiding amongst the pasta elbows. Finding lobster was a search and rescue mission.

Besides, as succulent as lobster is, it's no match for sweet Maryland crab. Why not do my own version? Why not crab mac and cheese? How about a base of pasta and cheese with a light blanket of sauteed spinach, crowned by a thick layer of giant Maryland crab lumps and caressed by a rich, cheese sauce? My new crab dish became a sort of fusion of macaroni and cheese meets Greek pastitsio meets lasagna. Once again old inspired new.

Speaking of new, Maryland Crab And Spinach Mac N' Cheese Lasagna was the covered dish I took to Friendsgiving last night. A casual gathering of friends - both old and new - celebrated an early Thanksgiving with good food (Duxelles Roast Turkey, Bourbon Vanilla Bean Cranberry Sauce, Bourekas, Cheesecake-Stuffed Baked Apples w/Homemade Caramel Sauce...just the highlights) and drinks (fine wines - both homemade and store-bought - and a delicious Peanut Butter Cup cocktail), great stories, lots of laughs and even a few misty-eyed moments. It was an evening of made-over tradition...old to new...that I'm looking forward to again next year! 

Maryland Crab And Spinach Mac N' Cheese Lasagna

  • 12 oz. elbow macaroni, cooked al dente - I use Barilla gluten-free pasta to make this GF - use your own favorite macaroni, of course.
  • 1 lb Maryland jumbo lump crabmeat, picked through carefully for any shell or cartiledge - don't break up the lumps, please.
  • 4 T butter
  • 4 T cornstarch
  • 2 C milk
  • 1 C half & half
  • 1 1/2 t Old Bay seafood seasoning - accept no substitute!
  • 1/2 C sharp cheddar, shredded - plus extra for top
  • 1/2 C Swiss, shredded - plus extra for top
  • 1/2 C Italian Parmesan blend shredded cheese, plus extra for top
  • 2 oz cream cheese, softened
  • 1 t olive oil
  • 3 C sliced fresh spinach, stems removed
  • 1 clove garlic, pressed or minced finely

Preheat oven to 400 degrees and butter a shallow baking dish (2-3 quart size). Set the baking dish aside.

Melt butter in a medium sized pot over medium heat. Whisk in the cornstarch until the mixture is smooth. Gradually whisk in the milk, stirring until smooth, then add the half & half and whisk until smooth and the mixture thickens. Add 1/2 C each of cheddar, Swiss and Italian blend cheeses. Reduce the heat and stir until the cheeses are completely melted. Add cream cheese and Old Bay - stir until the cream cheese is completely melted. Set aside and keep warm. 

In a non-stick skillet, add the olive oil and warm over medium heat. Add spinach and garlic and cook until the spinach wilts. Set aside.

In a large bowl, add the cooked macaroni and pour 2/3 of the cheese sauce over top. Stir gently to thoroughly combine. Pour the mac n' cheese into the bottom of the buttered shallow casserole dish.

Pat any liquid in the pan of spinach off with a paper towel. Distribute the spinach evenly over the top of the macaroni and cheese layer. Gently scatter the gorgeous Maryland crab lumps over the spinach layer, spoon the remaining cheese sauce evenly over the crab and sprinkle the extra shredded cheeses over all.

Bake for 25-30 minutes until the top is beautifully browned. 

NOTE: I use cornstarch to make this gluten-free. If gluten isn't an issue, feel free to use all purpose flour.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Uber Umami Porcini Pork Chops

Even though the taste of umami was identified relatively recently, great chefs have been instinctively working with it almost forever. More potent than your common, ordinary food tastes, 'umami' definitely pushes the boundaries of everyday taste sensations. 

When I started working on my pork chop rub/paste, I didn't set out to produce an 'umami bomb." Just so happens, that's exactly what resulted! What's an umami bomb? A dish that's built of almost (or completely) umami ingredients. 

Let's back up here. I guess your first question is, "What IS umami anyway?" In addition to the tastes of sweet, salty, bitter and sour, it's a savory flavor. Think of the taste sensation you get from meats, especially pork and beef. To take it a step further, especially the flavor of cured or smoked meats. Not just meats, however...fish and seafood are rich in umami, the earthy taste of mushrooms, cheeses - particularly Parmesan, feta and blue veined varieties and even vegetables such as asparagus and garlic come into play, too. 

Fermentation produces vinegars, soy sauce and fish sauce that have double the wham with more than one umami trigger - fish sauce has both fish AND is fermented, Worcestershire sauce is also fermented and contains anchovies. Enough background. Just how did umami favors result in a totally delightful dish?

As I said above, I started with pork chops - umami already. There were dried porcini mushrooms in the cabinet so I put those in my spice grinder with black peppercorns and a few Szechuan peppercorns - whirrrr whirrrrr - porcini peppercorn dust. Next I added tamari, balsamic vinegar and garlic, mixed them into a paste, rubbed the chops and let them marinate overnight. 

Once grilled the next day, the flavors were deep, dark, rich, mysterious and intense. Total umami success! 

Uber Umami Porcini Pork Chops

  • 1/4 C dried porcini mushrooms
  • 12 black peppercorns
  • 5 Szechuan peppercorns

  • 1 T granulated garlic
  • 2 large garlic cloves, pressed or minced finely
  • 1 T wheat-free Tamari or soy sauce (I use wheat-free Tamari to make this gluten free)
  • 1 T balsamic vinegar
  • 2 T roasted peanut oil
  • 1 T agave
  • a sprinkling of Porcini & Salt  - a finishing salt that's mixture of sea salt, porcini mushrooms and herbs (I get mine at Gourmet Delights) to finish!

  • 4 nice, thick bone-in pork chops - I like center cut loin chops

Start martinating these the night before for maximum umami-ness or 4 hours in a pinch.

In a spice grinder, buzz the dried mushrooms and the black and Szechuan peppercorns together to a dust. Transfer to a medium bowl.

Add the rest of the ingredients (except for the pork chops) to the porcini peppercorn dust and mix to a well-combined paste, then evenly coat both sides of the pork chops with ALL of the paste.  Put the chops into a zip top plastic bag, squeeze out all the air, seal and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, grill the chops and serve with a sprinkle of Porcini & Salt for extra porcini - AND umami - emphasis!

NOTE: This was one of the last dishes I got to make for Mark, who gave it a highly enthusiastic thumbs up and a request for me to make them again SOON. We both thought they'd be pretty amazing smoked!