Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Angry Orchard Beef, Pumpkin & Apple Stew







Giant orange orbs are appearing everywhere these crisp, chilly and windy days, whether they're scattered across the hills and fields of our beloved local farms or piled high in grocery store bins. Pumpkins are everywhere! Even in my CSA box.

That big ol' sugar pumpkin presented a few possibilities. Should I just plunk it out on the porch with my other warty pumpkins, gourds and rusty mums? That would be the easy way out. I did briefly consider roasting pumpkin chunks and making a roasted pumpkin and cinnamon syrup for fall cocktails, but decided on a hearty and warming stew instead.

I just happened to have a nice chuck roast in the freezer, so I pulled that out and after it was thawed, cut it into nice sized cubes, browned them and started building the base for the stew. The hardest part of the stew? Cutting and peeling the pumpkin! Ugh. Maybe the porch sitting pumpkin idea was better after all. But no, I soldiered on and peeled that sucker! 

After browning the beef in batches and then putting just a little caramelization on the pumpkin pieces, I simply added peeled potatoes (also from my Dillner Farms CSA box), lots of onion, a nice big peeled and cubed apple (yep, CSA, too!), poured a bottle of Angry Orchard hard cider over all, put on the lid and simmered the mixture away for a few hours. Oh, it smelled wonderful all throughout the house!

Best of all, the pumpkin-y, apple-y, onion-y and richly beefy conglomeration of flavor was worth every bit of the pumpkin peeling process. Here's a little hint...don't feel like peeling a pumpkin? Try subbing in peeled butternut squash in those plastic containers from the grocery store instead. It works!


Angry Orchard Beef, Pumpkin & Apple Stew 


  • 1 T olive oil
  • 2 T unsalted butter
  • 2 1/2 pounds chuck roast, cut into stew-sized cubes
  • Salt and pepper to taste - use to season the meat liberally before browning
  • 4 C fresh pumpkin, cut open, seeds removed, cut into strips and the rind peeled, cut into cubes (or buy pre-peeled butternut squash at the grocery store - perfectly acceptable substitution!)
  • 2 large onions, approx 2 C,cubed 
  • 1 1/2 t fresh garlic, minced finely or pressed
  • 4 C peeled and cubed red or Yukon Gold potatoes - don't use Russet potatoes as they have a tendency to fall apart
  • 1 bottle (12 oz.) Angry Orchard Cinful Apple hard cider - or another variety, but I like the subtle cinnamon hint it infuses the stew with
  • 1 1/2 C apple - peeled, cored, cut into cubes
  • 2 t Beef soup base - I like Better Than Bullion, it's gluten free!


In a heavy bottomed enameled cast iron Dutch oven, melt the butter and oil together and bring it to high temp. Add the salt and peppered beef chunks - in 3 batches - and brown well on all sides. Remove each batch to a bowl as each is done.

When all the beef is browned, add the pumpkin pieces to the oil and brown, giving a nice caramelization to the edges. Then add the onions and garlic and stir well until the onions and garlic are softened. 

Add the beef back into the pot along with the potatoes, pour the bottle of Angry Orchard over all, stir everything up from the bottom, cover and reduce the heat to a simmer. Let it go for about an hour, then add the apple and the soup base. Stir well again, cover and let it simmer for another 2 hours or so until the beef is tender.

Delicious!



Sunday, October 19, 2014

Paw Paw Ice Cream or Concord Grape Sorbet...One Difficult Decision






This week's Millie's Homemade ice cream CSA presented we fortunate subscribers with a choice: a pint of native Western PA paw paw ice cream or harvest fresh concord grape sorbet? Tough decision, right? I love choices where there are no wrong answers. I chose paw paw. 

Why? Because I've been dying to try paw paws for many years. From the time we moved into our house in the North Hills 28 years ago, all those fruit tree catalogs tempted me with descriptions of the exotic sounding fruit tree. The fruits look like a large mango with a flavor description of a banana crossed with citrus. Described as having a custardy texture, I SO wanted to try them. 

The trees themselves were unlike any local tree I'd ever seen...so cool and tropical looking! Somehow I never got around to ordering a pair. Yet another gardening regret in hindsight as paw paws have become the darling of the fall fresh and local scene. Blew that one!



I was tickled to see the last Cure'ated dinner (at Cure in Lawrenceville with Chef Brian Voltaggio of Volt in Frederick, MD (and of Top Chef fame)) used paw paws in every course. (I was first on the waiting list for this dinner if someone cancelled. They didn't. Damn.) And now, I was being offered paw paw ice cream delivered directly to my door? Yes, please.

Now that I had a pint of my dream paw paw ice cream in my hot little hands, would I be disappointed after years of imagining the exotic, yet local, fruit's flavor? Not on your life. It was everything I'd imagined and more! Just a hint of banana with a subtle melon nuance and a smidge of pineapple in the forefront delighted my tastebuds. THIS is ice cream to savor!

And you know what? When Lauren delivered my pint to the door, I was lucky enough to be gifted a bonus pint of Concord Grape sorbet, too. I hit the ice cream lottery! 

One taste of this intensely grape-y sorbet had me imagining a tall glass of gin and tonic with a big scoop - or TWO - of this gorgeous deep purple grape sorbet bobbing in a bubbly tall glass. So that's exactly what we enjoyed last evening. Ahhhhhhhh...a perfect purple-y adult float. Cheers to Millie! And her homemade chilly delights.





Millie's Concord Grape Gin & Tonic Float

Serves 1

  • 1 1/2 oz.  Bluecoat gin
  • 2 nice big scoops of Millie's Homemade Concord Grape Sorbet (or another brand if you can't get your hands on Millie's - I bet blackberry would be pretty amazing, too!)
  • Fever Tree Naturally Light Indian Tonic Water (or regular, not light) - enough to fill the glass

In a nice tall glass, add the gin and a little tonic. Mix. Add hefty scoops of sorbet and pour enough tonic to fill the glass. Gently stir and serve with a straw. (I love my metal spoon straws...dual purpose!)


Friday, October 17, 2014

Spinach & Parm Meatballs And Sausage With Hot Banana Pepper Sauce







Staring at the takeout menu, the decision is always the same when a hot hoagie is the night's craving. Meatball or hot sausage?  Okay, maybe a steak n' cheese might figure into the equation, too, on occasion. But generally, it's meatball or hot sausage for me.

And then there's the gluten issue getting in the way of simply ordering from a takeout menu. Except for Mandy's Pizza in West View (thank you Steve for doing amazing GF pizzas, hoagies, calzones and pastas ALL in a GF version!), usually if I want a hoagie, it's going to be homemade. As long as I'm doing my own meatballs or hot sausage, why not make it the way I really want it? Why NOT do both meatballs AND sausage in the same sandwich so there are no potential life altering decisions to be made? Why not indeed. So I did.

Every good meatball or sausage hoagie (did you know I still say "sub" sometimes from my years in Maryland?) starts with a doggone good tomato sauce. Since I still have hot banana peppers from the CSA, that's where I started. And really, Italian hot banana peppers are just made for a good sauce on an Italian hoagie! After starting with the peppers, I added lots of garlic, San Marzano tomatoes, fresh basil and good red wine. Good start.

My meatballs are a nice light version with chopped fresh spinach and a hefty amount of Parmesan, as well as fresh bread and heavy cream to be sure the meatballs stay light and tender. Because the sauce itself packs a nice wallop of heat, instead of my usual hot sausage, I used sweet Italian sausage and let the sauce carry the heat for the dish. 

Once the sauce, meatballs and sausage had simmered on the stovetop for a while, all that was needed were good, crusty hoagie rolls (or Udi's GF baguettes for me) and a nice smoky provolone to tuck into the sandwich to get all gooey and melty. Just like takeout!

And the leftovers? Turn the sauce, meatballs and sausage into an easy casserole for a dinner the whole family will love! Who doesn't like double duty dinners?! 



Spinach & Parm Meatballs And Sausage 
With Hot Banana Pepper Sauce


Sauce:
  • 3 T olive oil
  • 2 large sliced banana peppers - HOT ones!, tops removed, seeds removed, sliced across into thin wheels
  • 4 large cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1/4 C fresh basil, chopped
  • 1 T Kosher salt
  • lots of freshly ground black peppercorns
  • 2 - 1 lb 12 oz cans of San Marzano tomatoes in puree w/ basil leaf
  • 1/3  (or more?) C good red wine

Meatballs:
  • 1 1/3 lb lean ground beef
  • 1 egg
  • 2 T Italian flatleaf parsley, chopped
  • a generous 1/2 C fresh spinach, chopped - measured after chopping
  • Kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1 1/2 t granulated garlic
  • 2 T heavy cream
  • 1 slice firm bread, crumbled finely - I use gluten-free bread to make this GF, but if gluten isn't an issue use something like Pepperidge Farm


  • 1 pound sweet Italian sausage links, cut in half and browned in a skillet

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Start with the sauce. In a large pot, add the olive oil and add the banana peppers and garlic. Saute gently until the veggies are softened, but not browned. Add the basil and stir in well, then add the salt & pepper, tomatoes (crushing each tomato with your hand and fingers as you put it in) and wine. Stir well, bring to a boil and immediately reduce heat to a simmer. Let simmer gently while making the meatballs & sausage.

In a large bowl, mix all the meatball ingredients well, but lightly. Make meatballs about the size of golf balls and place on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake for 40 minutes until beautifully browned. 

Add meatballs and browned sausage into the sauce and simmer an hour or so. Don't let the sauce reduce too much, but just to a nice spoonable consistency. Stir occasionally, making sure the bottom isn't burning. 

Serve on good crisp hoagie buns with slices of provolone, if you wish. To make these GF, I use Udi's baguettes. Fabulous!

NOTE: What to do with leftovers besides more hoagies? Cut each meatball in half, and the sausages, too. Cook rigatoni or medium shells, drain and add meatballs and sausage with enough sauce to coat the pasta well. Add cubes of mozzarella and some parm, mix well, pour into a large shallow casserole dish, cover with more shredded mozz and bake at 400 degrees just until the casserole bubbles nicely. Serve with a good salad and garlic bread. Easy dinner! 






Oh what the hell, here's a bonus recipe for the casserole:



Meatballs, Sausage & Shells 
Quick and Easy Casserole



  • 8 oz. large shell pasta - I use gluten-free to make this GF - cooked just under al dente to allow for time in the oven
  • 4 C leftover meatballs and sausage, each cut in half
  • 1 C leftover banana pepper sauce
  • 4 oz. sharp provolone, cut in 1/2" dice
  • 4 oz. firm mozzarella, cut in 1/2" dice
  • 4 oz. fontina, cut in 1/4" dice

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.


Drain the shells and return to the pot. Add the sauce and stir gently to coat, trying to separate the shells. Add the halved meatballs and sausage and the cheeses, again trying to separate the shells so they're evenly distributed with the meats. 

Spray a shallow casserole dish with Pam and pour the mixture into the dish. Bake for about 50 minutes until the cheeses are melted and the casserole is bubbly.

Easy, family pleasing dinner! 




Sunday, October 12, 2014

Millie's Homemade Ice Cream - Maybe The Best CSA Ever!





Oh, how the excitement around home has been growing! CSA time was a l m o s t here! Not our farm CSA, that one is nearly at an end, I'm talkin' our ICE CREAM CSA!  And our first delivery came on Saturday. Let the celebration begin!

First, a little background. Our ice cream CSA is by Millie's Homemade Ice Cream right here in Pittsburgh. They use only the finest of local farm fresh eggs and cream to "create artisanal ice cream and sorbet that will fill your belly and warm your heart." That's according to Chad and Lauren, the talent behind the product that not only does what it promises, but soothes your soul at the same time. With ice cream!

Just like a perfect present in it's presentation, isn't it? Appropos.


Who is the talent behind the ice cream? None other than Chad Townsend, formerly the talented chef at Salt of the Earth in Garfield, and his lovely wife and business partner, Lauren. He brings his years of expertise in discovering combinations that are sometimes subtle nuances of gentle flavors or other times little (big) parties in your mouth. I'll be sharing the excitement of each flavor as the CSA weeks unroll.

Our inaugural Saturday CSA delivery was a gentle, beguiling little number of Lemon Verbena ice cream. You know we popped the lid and dug into the pint of soft green goodness the instant it was placed into our hands! Smooth, sweet, silky and lemony herbal notes danced and swayed gently in our mouths. 

It may look a little soft, but that's perfect tasting consistency to me!

We dreamed of running into the kitchen to whip up a batch of perfect shortbread cookies to accompany the deliciousness in front of us, but you KNOW we simply spooned and enjoyed it straight from the carton! And, when reason returned to our (ice cream cooled) fevered brains, plopped the pint into the freezer to finish off the next day. Still sans shortbread. Of course.

Where can you get your own Millie's Homemade Ice Cream? Especially since the CSA is long since filled up? Every Friday you can get your fill at the Livermore in East Liberty (124 S. Highland Avenue) by the cup or by the cone. In the meantime, I'll be by my front door on Saturdays (not so) patiently awaiting my precious pint of ice cream or sorbet to appear at my door. There may or may not already be a spoon in my hand when it gets here.





Sunday, October 5, 2014

Italian Vinegar and Oil Pickled Hot Peppers - And Good Neighbors




A small canning jar, sparkling like sliced yellow sapphires and studded with an occasional sliver of ruby, passed from my neighbor's hands into my grateful ones. I had been gifted a precious jar of Joanna's annual Italian Vinegar and Oil Pickled Hot Peppers. As I've told Joanna often, they are the best doggone pickled peppers that have ever gilded a hoagie!


This year, I got something even better...the recipe! Well, not better than the actual peppers, but the tools to do them myself! 

Serendipitously, there were bags of hot banana peppers available for swap out at my Dillner Family Farms CSA pick up for a couple weeks in a row. Anticipating collecting enough of the firm long yellow peppers for Joanna's recipe, I swapped out zucchini or lettuce or even some potatoes until I had enough peppers for a small batch of my own jarred pickled hot peppers. 

Finally, canning night. Following Joanna's recipe carefully, I brought vinegar, sugar and water to a boil. I'd already prepared the jars, sliced the peppers and readied the garlic, salt and olive oil. The jars were lined up on the counter filled with their colorful contents just waiting. I poured the boiling liquid carefully over the contents of each jar and capped each one securely. 

After a while, I heard the reassuring soft pop of each lid indicating the seal had worked. That made no difference to me really, because I lack confidence in my safe canning abilities (it has been MANY years since I could call myself an accomplished canner) and refrigerated all 4 pints of peppers as soon as they came to room temp. Better safe than sorry, you know!

Have I mentioned before that I have the best neighbors in all of the North Hills? I'd even venture to say in all of the Greater Pittsburgh area! 



Italian Vinegar and Oil Pickled Hot Peppers



  • 4-6 C hot banana peppers, cleaned, stem ends cut off, sliced thinly
  • 8 large garlic cloves, peeled, stem end cut off and left whole
  • 8 teaspoons Kosher salt
  • 8 tablespoons good olive oil

  • 2 C white vinegar
  • 2 C water
  • 1 C granulated sugar

  • 4 pint jars with rings and lids or 8 half pint jars with rings and lids

In a pot on the stove, boil the lids for the jars for 5 minutes. Remove, dry thoroughly and set aside on a clean, dry cloth. Run the jars and rings through the dishwasher. Have everything ready to go when the jars and rings immediately come out of the dishwasher.

If you're using pint jars, add 2 garlic cloves to each jar along with 2 teaspoons salt and 2 T olive oil. (If using 1/2 pints, use 1 garlic clove, 1 t salt and 1 T olive oil to each jar.) On top of those ingredients, cram the pepper rings as tightly into each jar as possible while still leaving about 1/4-1/2" between the contents and the tops of the jars. 

Pour the boiling vinegar, water, sugar mixture over top contents of each jar, again leaving 1/4-1/2" clearance at the top. Make sure the rims of the jars are squeaky clean and place the lids on top of each jar. Tighten the rings securely and allow the jars to cool to room temperature. Each lid should "pop" as it seals. If not, and I don't trust it, refrigerate the peppers. 

Allow the peppers 3 weeks or so to reach the pickling sweet spot and serve  on sandwiches, in salads, however you enjoy the most!




Wednesday, October 1, 2014

A Maryland Get Away, The Kimber Effect And Sweet, Sweet Memories




Over the life of Dinner Plan-it, I've given you little insights into various adventures I've enjoyed there with friends and/or family in the great and beautiful state of Maryland. (Okay, sometimes MORE than a little, you know I LOVE the state!) Never has time spent in Maryland NOT been memorable!

Generally, you get snippets of Maryland adventures like last year's vacation in Ocean City and the food and drinks at Hooked or more lengthy tales like a Food With Friends get together in Annapolis or Kimber's and my visits to Fells Point in Baltimore. This time I thought we'd take you along on our long weekend to Ocean City to experience (vicariously) the foods, the sights, the smells, the oddities, the simple pleasure of being at the beach. Are you packed? Let's go!

We start out early, after the dawn but before the morning rush, heading for the turnpike. Eastbound, our first observation is we should have packed more gluten-free foods unless I want to gorge on a selection of salty, oily potato chips from multiple metal racks at the Oakmont rest stop. Fresh GF food? Forget it. Lesson learned. 

Back in the car, we cruise straight to Bob Evans in Breezewood to simply fill the holes in our bellies. That we did, then back on the road with images of glistening waves, squawking  seagulls and glittering sand luring us on. The beach is our quest.

As we drive, we talk about Ocean City beach trips of the past and the many interesting weather events we've encountered over the decades. Hurricanes and Nor'easters are no strangers to our OC beach vacations. In fact, we realized that when Kimber is along, storms are the norm! We simply face the fact that Kimber is a magnet for - well, let's just call it less than satisfactory beach weather. 

There was one particularly memorable storm - I think it was Hurricane Emily - when Kimber was in high school that winds whipped up the seas into giant mounds of seafoam against the dunes and sand felt like it was shot from a sandblaster against our faces. Our windbreakers sounded like a platoon of helicopters landing! Why were we out there (along with one of her friends) in that kind of weather? Why wouldn't we be?! Type A tendencies, you know.

Making great time, we are! We crossed the beautiful Bay Bridge, dazzled by the ships and boats and familiar crab pots bobbing in the bay and we drew closer to OC with the temp at 81 and glorious skies all around.  Into farming country, we make note of the multitudinous farmstands on the westbound side of Rte. 50 to make our last-of-the-season produce purchases more efficient on the way home. Good plan.

And then, in the distance, we see the familiar signs and businesses that welcome us to our happiest place. (I've been going here since I was 5 years old with parents, grandparents, uncles and many, many friends. Many, many sweet, sweet memories.) 

Yeah, we could have gone that fast way that takes us north of downtown Ocean City, but that sucks the life out of all the years of recollections - that first smell of the ocean that wafts through the open windows and sunroof as we cross the drawbridge, the perennial line of placid seagulls grabbing for dear life to the roofline of M. R. Ducks on the righthand side, looking for (and saying hello to) the Boardwalk, the spot where the real yellow Volkswagon VW Bug used to be perched high on a pole above the Paddock (Eek! It's a country/western bar now.), Fish Tales (hello!), Macky's (hiya!), Seacrets (guilty pleasure still at my age). 

I forgot something in all my excitement. As we approached the bridge, the clouds gathered, the temperature dropped from 81 to 74 and the winds kicked up. Significantly. Yep, The Kimber Effect still holds. Comforting to know there are constants in life. We always prepare for the not so positive ones and enjoy the moments we're given as they're given. So our first stop was Hooked for lunch and a well-crafted cocktail. We earned it. The Kimber Effect worked to our advantage this time!



Nice and spicy with a house pickled jalapeno and pickled tomato to boot!


While we sat at the bar, ate a wonderful crabby lunch and chatted up the staff, the rain came, the rain cleared, the sun came out and we were on our way to check into the hotel. 



Mmmhmmm...the first of many crab dishes to ensue. Real Maryland crab dip and fresh made chips at Hooked.
(Hooked participates in the Maryland True Blue Crab program

You KNOW its real!)


As if we needed evidence that the Kimber Effect had cleared, we checked in only to be queried whether we might be interested in exchanging our King Suite room with the pull out sofa (only room available when we made the res - SunFest weekend, you know) for a room with 2 queens? Oh, and the 2nd night would be free. BOOM! The Kimber Effect dissipated in grand style before our very eyes. Done. Deal.


View from our balcony towards the Big Assawoman Bay - Kimber Effect on the way out.






View from our balcony towards the Atlantic - Kimber Effect banished!!!



First thing on tap? A walk on the beach! This is, of course, the reason we drove 7 hours to begin with.

So maybe the windy part of the Kimber Effect remained. The beautiful part!



Not yet ready for dinner - since we'd packed in such a late lunch - we decided to head north to Delaware. On a booze quest. Always fun to peruse the shelves of distant states to see what interesting rums, bourbons, liqueurs and unknowns might be lurking in unfamiliar territory. 

Our first stop was Lighthouse Liquors in Fenwick - nice selection in a relatively small store! Here we picked up Dogfish Head Brown Honey Rum. Yes. THAT Dogfish Head. We also found Abuelo 12 Year, a Panamanian rum I'd been searching for since we sampled its delights at Porco Tiki Lounge in Cleveland almost a year ago. Grabbed that one, too! Although they didn't carry some of the items on our list, they were kind enough to tell us about this place up in Rehoboth...at the outlet mall! Be still my heart.


Scores at Lighthouse Liquors in Fenwick.



Yes folks, raised stage, LIVE beach music AND outlet-priced discount liquors! Outlet store nirvana.
Well, you see the picture above. You can just image our reaction. Oh, and did we shop! Pusser's, Appleton Estate V/X and Wray & Nephew rums; my no-longer-carried-in-PA and long-lamented 360 Double Chocolate vodka - TWO bottles; Dolin's vermouth - both dry and sweet, nicely priced (relatively) Grand Marnier, and even some rhubarb and cranberry bitters thrown in for good measure filled our cart. A most successful trip already, yes? I'm already making a list for our next trip to Outlet Discount Liquors in Rehoboth!

After a thwarted attempt for dinner at Dogfish Head, we meandered back down Coastal Highway just in time for a prime spot at the Crab Bag. Yes, the second crab meal of the day.


Fat. Hot. Heavy. Just the way they should be.

The rest of the evening saw lots of shopping (LOTS!), leather jackets at end-of-the-season prices, Dolle's candies, frozen yogurt, stops in all of the surf shops - some more than once - and especially at our favorite open-late shop, Endless Summer where I picked up this little tiki number...for the bar, of course.


This little tiki surfer dude obviously catches only the fiercest of waves! 

Yawn. This was a long, productive day starting in PA this morning, to MD, DE and back to our room. Nitey nite. Another awesome day ahead!

Hmmm...what's with all the clouds?


First peak from the balcony. It will burn off!

So off to breakfast we go. Bloodies and Benedicts, please.

The brand new Barn 34 (where the Christmas shoppe used to be) is serving up some kickass food! The GF (no muffin) Benedict with fresh spinach, FRESH crab(!!), Canadian bacon, poached egg and homemade hollandaise was simply amazing. Pretty decent Bloody Mary, too!

Still cloudy. Let's head to the inlet before the crowds get there for SunFest. Nice time to stroll the beach, reflect on the past year and think about how much Mark would have loved this trip. Except for the shopping. He would have taken a little salt water taffy to the beach to enjoy with his beer while we hit the stores!


Thoughts

Time to hit the beach for REAL!

Hmmm...it will burn off.

Okaaaayyyy...sunning(ish) in the sand with a favorite beverage will brighten things up!

And it did.
(Sailor Jerry and ginger for Kimber (L) and Parrot Bay Coconut Rum, lime and Diet Coke for me (R). Don't judge. It was vacation.

And the clouds and wind rolled in again. No problem! We'd been wanting to check out Ocean City Brewing Company!

A light lunch, picklebacks and a flight of some pretty amazing beers at OCBC were just what the weatherman ordered! (So did we.)

More shopping, a late dinner and an early turn in were in order. Busy 2 days! Seems like more, doesn't it?

Sunday. Time to get up and check the skies to see whether we're sticking around to enjoy one last (crab) breakfast or hitting the road.

This view certainly made the decision easier.


This confirmed it.

And so, we bid adieu to the rain, drove back down Coastal Highway for one last time while saying our silent farewells. It was sweet. It was just what we needed to relax and refresh until next year. Reservations are already being made for August 2015!

Across the drawbridge, the rain eventually clears, we stop for pumpkins and apples and late tomatoes at one of the stands we'd reconnoitered just a few days earlier. Not interested in breakfast, we crossed back over the Bay Bridge watching the Eastern Shore fade into our rearview mirror. Until next year, you great big beautiful bridge!

While driving, we decided we'd stop at Wegman's (my standard fix when in Maryland!) for MD crabmeat by the pound and lunch at Brian Voltaggio's Family Meal. We stopped, spent hours in the Wegman's aisles - and the money to prove it - and then hit Family Meal. 

Our timing was spot on. Two prime spots right at the end of the counter opened up and we sailed past families and parties of 3 or more to our comfy perch. Knowing us by now, you also know we struck up a conversation with the men to our left and, of course, the staff. I think we convinced our countermates to visit Pittsburgh after telling them about the dining, cocktail and brewery scenes in town!

So lunch. The menu is classic diner and comfort food interpreted to the nines. But casual, friendly, family like and NO pretensions. The no pretensions thing at Volt was what I appreciated so much the times we've dined there.  

I started with cool, creamy perfectly seasoned deviled eggs generously dusted with crumbles of crisp bacon and I followed that with a bowl of cauliflower soup drizzled with basil oil and topped with a Parmesan crisp. Kimber and I shared duck fat fries with truffle oil, surrounded with 3 dipping sauces. Hands down our favorite was the onion dip one! Brought back memories of the 50's sitting around the black and white RCA, munching Ruffles with Lipton's California onion dip. Only in spades. 

Kimber chose the classic Reuben - so jealous I couldn't taste it and she crushed it before I got a pic!

Foreground - cauliflower soup, middle - deviled eggs, rear - duck fat fries with the magnificent onion dip!

For dessert - yes, we indulged - I chose the Banana Pudding with caramel and whipped cream, while lucky Kimber went the traditional MD route with a Smith Island Roll. Heaven

Sweet endings.
 Did I say endings? Not quite. A good cuppa Joe took that honor.
Having left Family Meal, we jumped back on Rte. 70, hit the Turnpike and were home in no time with nothing but sweet dreams of our all too short long weekend firmly planted in our brains. Well, that and the can of Fisher's Caramel Corn to make those remembrances even sweeter!

Ahhhh...home sweet - caramel-y sweet - home!
Thanks for joining us on our too short vacation. Hope you weren't bored! In my book, a Maryland visit is just what the doctor ordered. Anytime. I'm thinking a return to Fell's Point might just be the prescription next time!


Sunday, September 14, 2014

Bacon Wrapped and Stilton-Stuffed Fresh Black Mission Figs






Rich. Lush. Decadent. Those are my three words to describe the season's bounty of fresh figs. I've been picking them up at Whole Foods in the last few weeks to make syrups or to eat simply with good cheese and warm slices of  a crisp crusted (gluten free) baguette. 

Fresh figs - as opposed to the dried variety - are a real treat to me. The crunchy seeds and voluptuous soft flesh make me wonder why it was the apple and not figs that brought the downfall of Adam and Eve from Eden. Really, fig leaves became their modest clothing, not apple leaves!

During a delightful evening at the Allegheny Wine Mixer in Lawrenceville with friends a little while back, we were tickled to see on the menu fresh figs stuffed with ricotta, wrapped in bacon and roasted to perfection. (Nice little riff on the typical bacon-wrapped dates on menus all over town, yes?) They were devoured before a single picture could be taken. Sorry about that. And I've been thinking about them ever since. 

Finally, instead of just thinking about them, I got busy in the kitchen and sort of duplicated them...sort of did my own thing...and made my own riff of AWM's riff at home with a precious box of Black Mission figs straight from the store. 

Since figs are so full flavored, I decided to change out the ricotta and stuff them with a cheese that could stand up to them - a nice sharp, almost cheddar-y and tangy Blue Stilton. The bacon part was a keeper, of course, because nobody puts bacon in the corner! (Errrrr...sorry Dirty Dancing.)

To finish off the little lumps of goodness, I glazed them with balsamic vinegar that had been reduced to a syrup - just the right acid to balance out the combo of sweet figs, tangy cheese and smoky bacon. 

The result? Just what I was looking for in an appetizer to accompany a fine Manhattan. Oh, I didn't mention the whole point of this dish was to complement one damned good cocktail? Not to worry, both appetizer and cocktail hit the "rich, lush and decadent" mark perfectly.  



Bacon Wrapped and Stilton-Stuffed 
Fresh Black Mission Figs


  • 1 dozen fresh Black Mission figs, little stems snipped off and a slit sliced into the side of each
  • 12 pieces of Blue Stilton cheese - each the size of the tip of your pinkie finger
  • 6 slices of thin-sliced bacon, cut in half crosswise (12 pieces of bacon for 12 figs, right?)
  • 3 T balsamic vinegar syrup (6 T of balsamic vinegar simmered in a pot on the stovetop until reduced by half)


Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

In each slit in each fig, stuff a piece of Stilton - don't worry about it fitting, the figs give a lot. Wrap a half slice of bacon around each stuffed fig - starting by covering the slit and ending the same way. Place the figs slit side up in a baking dish.

Roast for 15 minutes, spoon a little glaze over each fig - using it all - and return to the oven. Roast another 20 minutes and baste again with the juices and glaze in the dish. Continue baking until the bacon is cooked and "melded" to the figs. Remove from the oven and let cool for about 10 minutes before serving. 

Serves 2...and don't forget the Manhattans!