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!

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Fresh Corn, Potato, Tomato, Jalapeno and Bacon Chowder

Our weekly CSA box has been bursting with beautiful ears of corn! Just my small share has produced 4-6 ears every week - not a problem, right? Well...not unless you shouldn't be eating things like corn, nuts and seeds.

It's so frustrating to wait all year long for fresh and local corn season to roll around - so fresh that when you press a fingernail into a kernel, juice squirts so high you sometimes get hit straight in the eye - and then not be able to eat any. (You did know the fingernail test is the gold standard test for corn, didn't you? If a corn kernel doesn't squirt when you press a fingernail into it, just step away from the corn, ma'am.)

Having to miss corn season this year had me mentally scrambling for ways to still enjoy the sweet goodness of the season without encountering any of the unfortunate side effects of the whole kernels. Soup. Fresh corn soup. Specifically, fresh corn, potato, tomato and jalapeno chowder with BACON!

What if I cut the kernels off the cob, simmered them long and slow in a rich broth (WITH the kernel-naked cobs to infuse an even corn-ier flavor), then whirred the bejeezus out of them with my stick blender? Would I end up with a big pot of corn flavor without the dreaded whole kernels? 

Ladies and gentlemen, the experiment was a success. No, the resultant chowder base wasn't smooth as silk, but it didn't matter when nice chunks of potato, tomato, onion, jalapeno and bacon studded the chowder making for a good and hearty meal-in-a-bowl.

Gilding the lily, I topped each bowlful with a sprinkle of chopped tomato, diced avocado and crisp bacon pieces. Ahhhh, summer corn goodness!

Fresh Corn, Potato, Tomato, Jalapeno 
and Bacon Chowder

  • 4 slices bacon - thick sliced, cut across into 1/2" lardons - reserve the cooked lardons for garnish
  • 4 ears of fresh corn - cut the kernels from the cobs and transfer to a bowl, then take your knife and scrape the bare cobs over the bowl to capture all the last vestiges of corny goodness
  • 3/4 C red onion, diced 
  • 1/2 stick butter - unsalted
  • 2 large jalapenos, seeds removed, minced
  • 4 large red potatoes, scrubbed and skins left on - diced small - like hash brown size
  • 72 oz. store-bought chicken stock - a good gluten-free one to make this GF
  • 1 T Jane's Crazy Salt
  • 3 large fresh tomatoes, diced small - same as potatoes, reserve the last tomato for garnish
  • 1 avocado, diced - for garnish
  • shredded cheddar - for garnish

Saute bacon until crisp in a heavy bottomed soup pot. Remove and reserve the lardons for garnish. Add corn kernels and onion. Saute until the onion is translucent and then add the chicken stock. Next add the naked corn cobs, bring the soup to a boil and immediately lower to a simmer and cover the pot. Cook until the corn is tender as can be, about an hour. 

When the corn gets to the tender point, remove the cobs, letting as much broth as possible drip back into the pot. Now it's time to get out the stick blender (aka, immersion blender). Whirr the hell out of the kernels until they are all pulverized and return the soup to a simmer. 

While the soup is simmering, melt the butter in a heavy skillet, then add the jalapenos and potatoes. Once they soften, add them to the soup as well, along with 2 of the diced tomatoes and the Jane's Crazy Salt. Simmer until the potatoes are cooked through and beginning to get a little mealy. (Be sure to put the lid back on the pot.)

Once the chowder comes together nicely, ladle it into bowls and garnish with healthy handful of shredded cheddar, topped with reserved chopped tomato, bacon and avocado. Enjoy!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Girlfriends, Girls' Night IN And One Sweet, Hot B*tch (Surprise...That's a Cocktail!)

Girls' Night with great friends is exactly what the doctor orders sometimes. Last Saturday night the physician writing orders wasn't quite the regular General Practitioner sort of doctor you might normally visit, but more of the kind who heals your spirit and soul.

While perusing the bottles of liquor on the shelves for our evening's indulgences, we began with impromptu tastings of Zaya rum followed by Patron XO Cafe in tiny stemmed glasses. Tres chic (not)! Judy and Stacey (mom and daughter, too, like Kimber and me) and my dear friend Marti (all three of them in from Maryland), lounged in our estrogen-charged living room swapping stories, catching up on all the latest happy, sad and mundane goings on in our lives and sharing both sweet and bittersweet memories we'd been blessed to have with Mark.

Chicken, beef and pork soft tacos (yay Verde Mexican Kitchen & Cantina (their catering menu is muy bueno)!!!!) and gluten-free Chipotle Brownies (yay Marti!!!!) provided sustenance as Kimber kept us happy with delicious and creative cocktails. Bourbon on the rocks for Marti, a cucumber and jalapeno gin & tonic for me and rum and Cokes for Judy and Stacey. Hmmmm...there maybe have been some experimental picklebacks mixed in there somewhere, as well.

For herself, Kimber came out of the kitchen carrying a martini glass with 2 pickle slices perched prettily on its rim. That little riff on a pickle-tini turned out to be everyone's favorite! (You know we were all sampling each cocktail that magically seemed to appear...quality control and all that.)

Zesty Bread and Butter pickle juice (with just a little muddled cucumber and jalapeno for zip) created a perfect combo of sweet and salty, hot and sour to cap off a "Girls' Night IN" to remember. (No drinking and driving here!) Somehow the name transformed from "pickle-tini" to "One Sweet Hot B*tch." (I can't imagine what could have influenced such irreverence. *wink*) And the cocktail shall forever remain named just that.

Here's the recipe so you can create a night of your own to treasure with your very BEST girlfriends, no matter how old you are. Remember, great girlfriends can get you through just about anything while holding your hand, simultaneously making you laugh...and sometimes shedding tears of their own right along with yours. Cheers, my friends!

One Sweet, Hot B*tch

  • 2 cucumber wheels - save 1 for garnish
  • 2 fresh jalapeno wheels - save 1 for garnish
  • 3 oz. Bluecoat Gin (made right here in Pennsylvania!)
  • 2 oz. Zesty Bread & Butter pickle juice (Vlasic!)
  • splash of tonic (I use Fever Tree)
  • ice
  • 1 pickle slice for garnish, too

In a cocktail tin, muddle the cucumber wheel and jalapeno wheel. Add gin and pickle juice, then fill the tin 3/4 of the way with ice. Shake vigorously until the tin frosts and strain into a martini glass. Garnish with the cucumber, pickle and jalapeno wheels. Enjoy!


Sunday, August 17, 2014

Chocolate Candied Orange Cannoli Jars With Drunken Cherries - Gluten Free Version

Remember my last post about the "classy" Steel City Roller Derby tailgate with 101 Achievements bloggers, Jenn and Michael? Jenn asked for the recipe for the dessert I brought along - Chocolate Candied Orange Cannoli Jars With Drunken Cherries. Glad to oblige, Jenn! 

Besides being an easy riff on cannolis, what I love about this super simple recipe is that it travels beautifully for picnics and tailgates. Screw the lid on the jar and go...unscrew the lid and enjoy! The other thing I love is that I get the taste and spirit of a cannoli without the gluten or bother of making cannoli shells!

There are lots of Steelers, college and high school football games coming up...maybe a new dessert for your very own tailgate this fall? Here ya go, Jenn!

Chocolate Candied Orange Cannoli Jars
with Drunken Cherries - Gluten Free Version

  • 7 Pamela's Chocolate Chocolate Chip cookies for the gluten free version (or another similar gluten FULL cookie, if gluten isn't an issue) - crumble 1 into dust and reserve to garnish the tops - you may need a few extra to accommodate for snacking
  • 8 oz ricotta cheese 
  • 8 oz mascarpone
  • 1/2 C powdered sugar
  • 1 t vanilla extract - the REAL stuff, not that imitation crap
  • 1/2 t cinnamon - I use Vietnamese cinnamon from Penzey' this kind
  • 1/3 C mini chocolate chips
  • 3 - 3" X 1" strips of candied orange peel, finely diced (see method below)
  • 24 Luxardo or Amarena cherries or homemade boozy cherries, drain well & patted dry - leave 6 whole and cut the rest in half (I use Fabbri Amarena cherries that I order from Amazon - keep these on hand for Manhattans, etc....or midnight snacking!)
  • 6 1/2 pint jelly jars

In a medium mixing bowl with an electric mixer, beat the ricotta, mascarpone, powdered sugar, vanilla and cinnamon until smooth. Gently fold in the mini chocolate chips and candied orange peel.

Assembly: In the bottom of each jelly jar crumble 1/2 a cookie, then a heaping tablespoon of cannoli filling, 3 cherry halves, then crumble the other 1/2 of the cookie, another heaping tablespoon of cannoli filling, then sprinkle lightly with cookie dust and press the whole cherry into the top firmly, but perkily standing out. Screw on the tops and pop into the fridge overnight. Serve the next day straight out of the jar!

Candied orange peel: First use your harp style veggie peeler to make 4 strips (3" x 1" approx - or the equivalent) from an orange - the orange part only, no white. Set aside. Then make a simple syrup of 1/2 C sugar and 1/2 C water. Bring to boil, stir to dissolve the sugar and reduce heat to a simmer. Add the orange peel and simmer several minutes. Turn off heat and let cool. Use the peel for the above recipe and use the orange simple syrup that's left for a cocktail!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Krak The Wall Punch For A Roller Derby Tailgate Kinda Evening

Fellow bloggers, Jenn and Michael of 101 Achievements fame, invited me to tag along at last Saturday night's roller derby bout. Pittsburgh's Steel City Roller Derby teams, the Steel Beemers and Steel Hurtin', skated against teams from Indianapolis in a dizzying, seesaw scoring battle...what a showstopper!

Funny enough, the first showstopper of the evening wasn't on the oval track at all, but started with a tailgate. Yep, the back parking lot of the Romp n Roll skate arena in Shaler was the site of our first ever, high faloutin', roller derby tailgate. The menu for such an auspicious event? What else would you serve, but derby themed cocktails. And a lovely charcuterie board. Of course.

Michael crafted a gorgeous pink number, a riff on a Pink Lady he named "Gritty In Pink," using tequila and cynar in place of gin. A lady it wasn't. Smooth with a swagger, sweet with a throat punch attitude and perfect for the occasion.

My own contribution was a little something I ended up naming Krak The Wall Punch. The odd name came from the use of Kraken rum, local Stone Wall rum (thank you Boyd & Blair) and (while not local, still a local favorite in Pittsburgh's Italian community and among craft bartenders here) Janamico Super Punch, an amaro. To that combo, I added a mint and jalapeno simple syrup and a hefty zip of lime. To quote the label of Super Punch, the cocktail was "refreshin."

Add to the cocktails Jenn's charcuterie board of fine meats, cheeses - I especially liked the one with volcano ash, gourmet mustards, a fine baguette, jellies and fruits and we had one classy ass, bang up, pre-derby feast. Oh...and I made a little dessert with layers of crushed chocolate cookies, cannoli cream and drunken Bing cherries in screw top jelly jars for a sweet ending before the derby began. What a fun and fabulous way to spend a summer Saturday night!

Krak The Wall Punch
4-6 servings 

  • 3/4 C Kraken rum
  • 1/2 C Stone Wall Rum
  • 1/4 C Janamico Super Punch
  • 6 oz jalapeno mint simple syrup - recipe below
  • 1/4 C freshly squeezed lime juice
  • crushed ice
  • lime wheel and mint sprig garnish for each cocktail

In a small pitcher, stir well the rums, Super Punch, jalapeno mint simple and lime juice. Fill glasses with crushed ice, pour the punch over and garnish each with a wheel of lime and sprig of mint.

Jalapeno Mint Simple Syrup: 1/2 C demerara sugar (find it in the sugar section of the grocery store), 1/2 C water, 6 nice sprigs of mint and 1/2 half of a LARGE jalapeno, sliced across into rounds. (If you like less heat, use less...if you like more heat, use more!) 

In a small saucepan, bring the sugar and water to a boil, lower heat and simmer until the sugar is dissolved. Add the mint sprigs and jalapeno slices. Stir until the mint is wilted into the syrup and let the mixture cool completely. Strain the mixture into a jar and store in the refrigerator.

Roller derby action!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Triple Dilled Potato Salad...and Changes

Change is inevitable. Back at the beginning of the year, change was on my mind...only natural as the calendar flips to a new year, a new time, hopes for a new beginning. All change should be so kind, not all changes are.

In a post at the start of the year, I shared my husband's struggle with heart surgery, our wait for a heart transplant and our hopes and dreams for a beautiful 2014. Together with our daughters and grandchildren, we rode the highs and lows of that entire life-changing experience, finally with a successful(!) heart transplant on Mother's Day. 

A beautiful new heart in a beautiful man who wanted nothing more than to enjoy again the simple pleasures of home and independence. And he achieved just that. 

Mark grew stronger, was able to drive not just his car, but his treasured tractor (he DID have t-shirt that said, "The Lawn Ranger!). We grilled and smoked and even bought a new charcoal grill for the neighborhood get-together we were planning to thank our wonderful neighbors for all their help over 7 long months.

We got out and about and socialized with friends and family all around Pittsburgh and looked forward to ditching that 2-hour travel restriction and really getting back on the road again...Michigan to see the kids and grandkids, Maryland and the ocean, the bay and our beloved Baltimore and further still to South Carolina and long-missed family.

Then changes came 'round again. Suddenly. Quickly Mark was back in the hospital. Immunosuppressant drugs are both a miracle and a curse, the latter when infection strikes and no way to battle against it. A man who fought so bravely over so many months with such determination and an amazingly positive outlook, was felled in just a few hours.

And here I am again talking about change. And heartbreak and hope. Change, good or bad is inevitable. Change is just another part of life and life goes on, differently, but on. With sweet memories.

Triple Dilled Potato Salad

I made this variation on my standard potato salad for Mark just a couple of weeks ago. He loved it so much he asked for it again when our potato-salad-loving grandson came to visit from Michigan. Matt really likde it, too! 

  • 2 1/2 pounds Russet potatoes, cooked in their jackets, peeled, cut into medium dice
  • 4 hard boiled eggs, peeled, cut into small dice - save one for garnish 
  • 1 large celery stalk, cut into small dice
  • 1/2 medium onion, cut into small dice
  • 1 C Vlasic Zesty Dill Spears, cut into small dice (or use your favorite dills with a nice zip to them)
  • 1 T Jane's Crazy Salt
  • 1/2 t dill seed
  • 1/2 t celery seed
  • 2 T brown mustard
  • 3/4 C mayo (Hellman's, of course)
  • 1 t sugar
  • 1/4 C dill pickle juice from the jar - or more to taste
  • 1/4 C fresh dill fronds, minced - plus extra for garnish

In a large bowl, gently mix potatoes, eggs, Jane's Crazy Salt (Yes, you can use another seasoned salt, but why? Jane's is the best!), veggies and seeds.

Mix well the mustard, mayo, sugar & juice and pour over the potato mixture. Sprinkle the fresh dill over the top and gently fold the dressing into the potato salad. 

Transfer the salad to a serving bowl and garnish with a sliced egg and dill fronds. Cover & refrigerate until serving time.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Sweet Savory Triple Corn and Sausage Waffles

Bless you Dillner Family Farm CSA, I LOVE you! Why?

Having been raised on canned vegetables on sale from the local A&P ("Creamed Corn - 3 Cans for 38 Cents"!), fresh veggies were a revelation. 

As a kid, I despised asparagus. Tell me, do they still commit the atrocity of canning asparagus today? Have you ever eaten long, slimy spears from the tall Green Giant can? Or, perhaps, grayish green Argo peas that were forced to give up their natural sweetness and "pop" by being overcooked and nearly brined to mush in the salty canning water? A shiver goes up my spine just thinking about the veggies of my youth.

The only fresh vegetables I recall as a kid at the family kitchen table were red cabbage - sweet and sour German-style, Brussels sprouts - boiled to a stinky, sulfurous death, and cauliflower - with cheese sauce, so who in their right mind didn't love THAT?! Oh, and carrots thrown in with celery, potatoes and onions along with a chuck roast - maybe with a packet of dry Lipton California Onion Soup Mix if my mom was feeling all fancy - in the old speckled blue enameled oval roaster. That Sunday roast was a classic.

I'll never forget having FRESH, crisp, bright green asparagus with hollandaise-kissed Eggs Benedict for brunch at Uncle Harry's place in Baltimore. "No thank you I don't like asparagus," I averred. "Try these, you'll like them," said Uncle Harry. 

Well, they sure didn't look like any asparagus I'd ever seen on a plate in front of me before, so I trusted my very sophisticated (a least to my young Pittsburgh eyes and experience) uncle - he of the very cool silver Jaguar XKE and fabulous taste in both clothes and decorating style. Trust him I did. From that moment on, a new world of culinary adventuring opened up before me. And I am forever grateful.

Fast forward to today and the fam can tell you that it is rare when we don't have fresh veggies on our plates, even in the dead of winter. Occasionally, you might find canned corn in a soup or - rarer still - frozen petite peas when we have a roasted chicken with mashed potatoes. (I'm a sucker for tiny sweet peas with mashed potatoes and gravy. Sometimes - when I think no-one is looking - the inner four-year-old me will mix them all together. Blush.)

CSA season in our house today is a delightful abundance of very fresh-from-the-farm produce. So far, since early June, we've enjoyed lots of greens - spinach, kale and many types of lettuces, yellow and green squash, red and golden beets, onions, fresh garlic, gorgeous tiny and sweet strawberries, blueberries, kohlrabi, tomatoes, green peppers, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli and lots of fresh, unbelievably sweet corn. This last week, the corn was sooooo sweet that our hands were sticky when we finished husking it!

We're a family who loves homemade waffles, so when I considered making fresh corn fritters somehow thoughts turned to fresh corn waffles instead. My usual gluten-free waffle uses corn flour and cornmeal, wouldn't corn kernels make this a triple threat celebration of corn? Too sweet perhaps?

That's when I decided to add beautifully browned crumbles of down-home, savory sage sausage to the sweet batter. A sweet and savory combo waffle drizzled with real maple syrup over all? Breakfast simply couldn't have been any better.

You know what? I still have another cup or so of corn kernels left. What will I do with the last of last week's sweet corn and all the new Dillner Family Farm produce I'll pick up on Thursday? Hmmmmmm...thinking.......

Sweet Savory Triple Corn and Sage Sausage Waffles

  • 1 1/4 C flour (use a good gluten-free flour to make this GF - I use Jules GF all purpose flour)
  • 1/2 C corn flour
  • 1/2 C cornmeal
  • 2 t baking powder
  • 3/4 t salt
  • 1/4 C sugar
  • 1/2 C cooked & well-browned breakfast sage sausage - nicely browned sausage gives a good depth of flavor to the waffles (if you can't find sage sausage, a good quality regular breakfast sausage will do just fine)
  • 1 C corn - cut fresh from the cob
  • 2 eggs, separated
  • 2 C milk
  • 5 T butter, melted

Mix all dry ingredients in a medium bowl. Set aside.

Beat egg whites in a separate medium bowl until stiff, but not dry. Set aside.

Beat egg yolks and milk together. While beating, add the melted butter and continue to whisk until the mixture is homogeneous. Add this mixture to the dry ingredients and mix well.

Add beaten egg whites, folding gently until well incorporated and finally add the sausage and corn. Mix these in gently, too.

Bake the waffles according to your waffle iron directions, keeping each batch warm as you finish up the batter. Serve hot with syrup for brunch OR dinner.