Monday, April 30, 2012

Food With Friends

There are moments and times in our lives that are positively packed with magic. Where you are is a factor, but people are the wand that makes the ordinary extraordinary.  Take last weekend. Marti and I set off together for a day-long Saturday escapade in Annapolis.  I might mention here that Marti and I enjoy a friendship that spans decades and is based in food and fun…and our roots of Pittsburgh. We were off for a day of cooking with friends we had never met.  What?  Here’s how it happened. 

Donna, who lives in Annapolis, saw a post I made on the Food Network FB page and invited me to be her FB friend.  Am I ever glad I accepted that invitation…it was an invitation to a group of online friends who are amazingly talented and funny as hell who are fellow food adventurers.   This group consists of chefs, pastry chefs, food bloggers, avid cooks and people who are just fans of good food from all over the country and all over the world.  The core group lives in Maryland which is how Marti and I ended up in Annapolis for one of the group’s regular cooking get-togethers. 

An early start to have brunch before hitting Donna’s wasn’t well planned at all.  In our haste to start the fun, we got there way too early for brunch - no brunch spots were open yet, but Chick & Ruth’s Delly was open for breakfast. 

Chick & Ruth’s is a famous spot in “Naptown” and one of my favorite lunch places from the days we lived in Maryland.  They have the BEST corned beef!  So Chick & Ruth’s it was for breakfast.  We were lucky to be taken to a table overlooking the back of the counter where we could watch the cooks.  Awesome!  They couldn’t have made 2 foodies happier! Or could they....

We picked up our menus just as we saw the owner pick up a microphone.  He announced that it has been Chick & Ruth’s tradition every morning to honor those who have fought for our country’s freedom by reciting the Pledge of Allegiance and asked everyone to rise and join him in the Pledge.  As you see in the photo, a large American flag hangs from the ceiling.  It brought tears to my eyes and a lump to my throat to see and hear every person rise and every voice join together to honor our country and our heroes.  Serendipity brought Marti and I at that moment to that place to experience that magic.  Teddy, the owner, and I shared a hug before heading out when I told him how deeply the Pledge had touched me and my appreciation. The story doesn’t end there.

Our view of the flag and the floor at Chick & Ruth's.

A while later Marti and I arrived at Donna’s excited to meet friends that up to this point, I had only chatted and laughed with online.  After hugs and smiles and chatter at finally meeting in person, I shared the Chick & Ruth’s moment with Donna.  She smiled.  She said to tell the story to Iris when she gets there.  I did.  Iris is Teddy’s sister and the daughter of Chick and Ruth!  Magic moments.

The rest of the day continued with just such moments.  Marti and Donna, who had never met, lived in adjacent buildings in Columbia at the same time.  Neighbors who had never met back then, but were destined to meet…just decades later.  Just as Marti and I lived in Pittsburgh at the same time as children, but didn’t meet until the time was destined.  Timing, and magic, is everything.

What would my advice be to fall into your own magic moments?  Take a chance.  Open your heart and mind to all the adventure, all the friendships and all the magic that is out there.  Look for the magic in every moment.  It is everywhere. 

Oh, what does the tzatziki photo have to do with the day?  That's what I contributed to the day of international cooking (the tzatziki recipe was posted here recently - check it out) - and I made the mochaccino Chex mix that I posted in December, too.  Those and cocktails to coordinate with some of the cuisines.  

Ouzo lemon shots went with the Greek dishes of the day.  Donna grilled a boneless spinach-stuffed leg of lamb on the grill - succulent!  Cat made galatabourekos (forgive me if I misspell any of these dishes!), tiropita, spanakopita, honey BACON donuts(!) and a fabulous Italian rum cake filled with both chocolate and vanilla cream, frosted with whipped cream and dusted with a praline crumble for Tommy's birthday (Donna's sweet husband - although apparently, "we can't handle the truth!" lol)  
My Tzatziki with all the dippers.

Bonnie and Brian making the Dim Sum.  Tedious, but worth it!

Marti's Roasted Tomatoes and Parm-crusted fennel.

Cat with the bottle of Pink Cat wine that Brian brought!

At one point there was to be Caribbean food so I created a mango hibiscus and ginger daiquiri...but there was no jerk (chicken) after all.  Somehow, nobody minded drinking the daiquiris!  Imagine that.  

Brian, who drove from Virginia for the event, made a myriad of Asian dishes.  Dim sum, fried rice, Asian meatballs, shrimp chips...for I made a matcha (finely ground Japanese green tea), Buddha's Hand infused vodka, St. Germaine, ginger simple syrup and lemon cocktail.  It's a vile green, but delicious and refreshing. I'll be posting the cocktails recipes sometime soon.  Speaking of green, Wendy brought a lovely green Indian palak paneer...also known as "drek"  

There were too many dishes to count or mention, just let it be known that Donna (she of the incredible heart and soul...not to mention, humor!), Leslie (who makes me laugh and smile), Carole (it's all about Carole....and rightfully so, sweetie!), Bonnie (whom I will forever picture grinning from ear to ear and dancing!), Brian (the man and his harem), Cat (the fabulous!  I have so much to learn from you...), Tina (such racy stories! thank God), Elva (sweet, smiling Elva), Kerry (gorgeous, talented designer with some Kerry/Donna stories to tell!), Iris (kind, adorable and efficient scribe that she is!), Wendy (I'll never forget that toast!)...if I've forgotten anyone, it's because of this aging brain....and maybe the cocktails? Forgive me.

Food With Friends....thanks for the magic.

Our magical dining view of the Severn at Donna and Tommy's.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Orange Ginger Beer Can Chicken on the Smoker


Beer can chicken is one of the delights of grilling and smoking season in my opinion.  No fussing.  Set it on the grill or the smoker and let 'er rip, a couple of hours later....golden, tender, juicy, flavorful, succulent chicken awaits.  It couldn't be easier.  And isn't he cute as the dickens?! 

Okay.  I lied about that "no fussing" bit above.  Yeah, there's a bit of prep involved....clean the chicken, make the paste and the baste, give it a little spicy paste massage...but once you get it on the smoker?  Sit back, relax, enjoy a beer or 2 or smokes for a long time! The prep time is worth it!

We've done a lot of variations over the years, but never an Asian version - well, we have now!  This little beauty may be the best of our efforts to date!  I just wish there were some way to send the spicy orange scent of this chicken your way!  Smoky sweet orange, salty tamari, zingy, zippy ginger and garlic in the marinade that we've emphasized with a glaze of the same flavors....sweetened and thickened with orange marmalade!  Mmmmmmm........ 

What am I serving alongside this little cutie?  Cold sesame noodles and simple buttered snow peas.  Look for the noodle recipe next!

Orange Ginger Beer Can Chicken on the Smoker

  • 1 roasting chicken, a nice big one!

  • 1 orange, zested and juiced (reserve juice)
  • ginger root, 2" piece, peeled and grated
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
  • 1 teaspoon dark sesame oil
  • 2 teaspoons honey, dark honey if you can find it
  • 1 teaspoon Penzey's Bankok Blend spice*
  • 1 tablespoon tamari soy sauce, wheat-free to make this gluten-free or soy sauce if gluten isn't an issue
  • 1 tablespoon sake (or white wine)


  • orange juice (reserved from the orange above)
  • 1/4 cup sake (or white wine)
  • 1/2 cup orange marmalade
  • 2 tablespoons tamari soy sauce (see note about tamari above)
  • 1 teaspoon granulated garlic
  • 1/4 teaspoon dark sesame oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon ginger

  • 1 can ginger ale

Rinse whole chicken, remove giblets and all the stuff inside (I throw it out, if you use it for something, go ahead!), remove all the fat around the neck.  Pat dry.

Combine the rub ingredients: zest, ginger, garlic, sesame oil, honey, spice, tamari and sake. Mix well into a paste; set 1 T. aside.  

Run your fingers between the skin and the flesh of the chicken breast and distribute 1/4 of the paste completely over that side of the breast.  Repeat on the other side of the breast with another 1/4 of the paste. Massage the paste all around from the outside, working the paste into all areas. 

Paste rubbed between breast and skin.

Make a small slit at the top of one leg (see pic) just about 1" long.  Insert one finger and separate the skin from the leg - do this gently.  Using the same slit, run your finger between the skin and the thigh, loosening skin completely.  Using your finger, work 1/4 of the remaining paste between the skin and leg, then another 1/4 between the skin and thigh.  Repeat on other leg and thigh.  Massage the paste all around from the outside, working the paste into all areas.  

Cutting slit at leg to insert paste.

Now let the chicken chill out in the fridge for about 4 hours.

For the baste, combine the orange juice, sake, marmalade, tamari, granulated garlic, sesame oil and ginger.  Mix well, set aside.

When you're ready to start cooking, prepare smoker as you normally would - we used applewood for this.  While the smoker is getting to temp, pour out all but 1/2 of the gingerale - drink it if you want or save it for something else - and gently work the butt of the chicken over the can.  Bend the wing tips back and tuck them under to keep them from burning.

Once the smoker is up to temp (225-250 degrees) put the chicken on the smoker and move his little legs forward to balance him upright - like he's standing up and dancing!  We used to do it this way, but bought ourselves a beer can chicken holder.  It's just sturdy wire with a base that the can is inserted into - holds the can and the chicken steady! Without the holder we did just fine for years, so if you don't want to make the investment, it isn't necessary. 

Cover the smoker and let the chicken go for about an hour.  Remove the lid and baste the chicken with the sauce.  Do this about 3 times over the course of the smoking. 

The time to smoke will vary with everyone - the type of smoker you use, the size of the chicken, how hot you're all depends.  Use a meat thermometer to be accurate about when the chicken is done.  An internal temperature of 180 degrees is what you're looking for - the leg should move easily and loosely in the joint.


NOTE:  If you don't have Bankok Blend, use pinches of ancho chile, lemon pepper seasoning, red pepper flakes, basil and cilantro - all dried and mix well and there you have it!

Cold Sesame Noodles

Cold Sesame Noodles

  • 1 pound spaghetti - gluten-free to make this GF (preferably BiAglut - you'll never know it's GF!!!)
  • 1 tablespoons peanut oil
  • 1/3 cup sesame seeds
  • 6 tablespoons soy sauce - wheat-free tamari to make this GF
  • 6 tablespoons tahini (sesame seed paste)
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons dry white wine
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon ginger
  • red pepper flakes
  • shredded lettuce
  • shredded carrot
  • sliced green onions

Cook noodles according to package, drain well, transfer to large bowl and toss well with oil.  Set aside.
Toast sesame seeds in heavy small skillet until light brown stirring constantly!  Put in food processor or blender with next 9 ingredients and process until smooth.  Mix sauce well with noodles and refrigerate.

At serving time, bring noodles to room temp.  Arrange lettuce on large serving platter, mound noodles in center and top with shredded carrots and green onions.

NOTE:  This makes a nice main dish if you add some sliced or shredded chicken breast or steamed, peeled shrimp to the noodles!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Navy Bean Soup

The Easter ham is but a sweet (and salty) memory....but, you know, all good things must come to an end.  Or  must they?????  There's potential here...just about anything is possible...get ready folks, yet another recipe with a hambone comin' at ya! 

If you've been following Dinner Plan-it, you know I treasure those last ham-y bits awaiting their transformation into something possibly even better than the original joint of meat.You've seen recipes here on Dinner Plan-it for Ham & Green Beans  (Mieke and I made that together over Christmas) and for Black Bean Soup - made that one recently, too.  (If you don't have those recipes, check the right hand side of the blog and click on "ham."  Those recipes will pop right up!)  Now it's time for (drumroll, please) Navy Bean Soup!  
Navy Bean Soup is a classic.  Even the U. S. Senate has a bean soup that's popular in the Senate restaurant that it's served every single day....has been since the early 1900's.  Hmmm, that might explain a lot of the hot air around there.  I haven't been making mine quite that long, only since the 60's.  

The Senate version is pretty simple - beans,onion, water, ham, butter, salt and pepper. Mine packs a lot more flavor...well, in my humble, non-governmental opinion, anyway.  The hambone simmers for a couple of hours with lots of leafy-topped celery, onions, garlic and LOTS of carrots.  Tomatoes add even more flavor and color.  It isn't just protein packed ham and beans in that big old soup pot in my kitchen, this soup is packed with lots of vitamins and minerals and fiber, too by golly!  
Give it a try and see what you think!

Navy Bean Soup

  • 1 ham bone, with lots of meat on it
  • 2 large onions, chopped
  • 4 stalks celery, with lots of leaves, chopped
  • 1 pound carrots, peeled and chopped finely
  • 1 pound navy beans, soaked overnight and drained
  • 4 large cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 can tomatoes
  • water
  • Jane's Crazy Salt, to taste
  • freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • hot sauce - optional (I like Cholula Chile Garlic!)

In a large soup pot, cover hambone with water, add onions, celery and garlic.  Cover pot with lid, bring the water to a boil, lower to medium and simmer the soup for about an hour.  Add the beans, carrots and tomatoes, return to a simmer and cook until the ham is falling off the bone.

Remove the bone, cut the ham into bite sized pieces, if necessary.  Adjust the seasonings with Crazy Salt and pepper and continue simmering until the veggies and beans are soft and creamy.

Add hot sauce, if desired (and I desire!).  Serve!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Shishkabobs with Asian Honey Ginger Marinade

A simple marinade for a simple meal...dinner on a skewer! Meat and veggies all in one spot, done all at one time and every bit of it absolutely, delicious and divine.  

No need to go into a lot of verbiage to describe this meal.  The marinade is sweet and tangy...perfect with chunks of crusted tender beef and sweetly charred veggies.  A little time over the flames and dinner is ready!  All you need is a salad and maybe a nice rice dish.  Make it simple!

Shishkabobs with Asian Honey Ginger Marinade
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce (use wheat-free tamari to make this gluten-free)
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 2 green onions, sliced
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger

  • 2 pounds large beef cubes, sirloin or your favorite steak
  • 1 red pepper, large squares
  • 1 orange pepper, large squares
  • 1 purple onion, large wedges
  • 8 tiny heads bok choy
  • 2 small zucchini

Mix marinade ingredients together and marinate beef cubes overnight or at least for several hours.

Using metal skewers (or bamboo skewers that have soaked in water for at least an hour), thread beef and veggies alternately (and decoratively!) on the skewers.  Grill as you like them.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Lamburger Sliders with Spinach & Feta

Spring.  Warm breezes, sunshine, the smell of freshly cut grass drifting across the yard, perky daffodils, swaying tulips and lamb.  Some of my favorite springtime delights, for sure.  The bouquet of lamb grilling on the barbecue grill?  That one may trump all the other spring sensory experiences hands down!

Lamb is one of those meats we serve rarely in this house - I don't mean "rare" as in medium or well-done, I mean not often.  Why?  It's expensive!  To buy a leg of lamb for just the two of us seems pretty foolish...and the kids don't care for it so just the two of us it is.  But lamb burgers fit the bill as far as cost AND not having to eat it for the entire next week in order to finish it up.

Sweet, slightly gamey ground lamb mixed with garlic, spinach and feta, grilled to perfection, tucked into warm pita and dipped into cool and refreshing tzatziki is a lovely meal to enjoy on a warm spring evening on the deck!

Lamburger Sliders with Spinach & Feta

Serves 2

  • 3/4 pound ground lamb
  • 1 cup fresh spinach, chopped
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced finely
  • 1/4 cup feta cheese
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper, to taste

  • 2 pita bread rounds - Gluten-free to make these GF (see note)
  • spinach
  • red onion, sliced thinly
Mix lamb, chopped spinach, garlic, feta, salt and pepper thoroughly, but lightly.  Form into 4 patties.
Grill over flames to get that gorgeous carmelization!
Put two sliders into a pita with red onion and fresh spinach.  Serve with tzatziki on the side for dipping!

NOTE:  Soergel's in Wexford carries Heaven Mills gluten-free pita that is out of this world!  If you can't get to Soergel's, be sure to look for it wherever you buy your GF products.  Eden's in Mt. Lebanon carries it, too.    

NOTE 2:  See tzatziki recipe below.



  • 1 seedless English cucumber, grated (if you use regular cucumbers, be sure to peel the cucumber and scrape the seeds out before grating - regular cucumbers are waxed)
  • 2 cups plain low-fat yogurt (I use Fage 0% fat Greek yogurt)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil 
  • 3/4 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • Jane's Crazy Salt, to taste
  • fresh ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh mint leaves
  • 1 small clove garlic, minced

Put the grated cucumber into a sieve and sprinkle with a little salt.  Let the cucumber drain for 1/2 an hour over a bowl.  Press the cucumber against the sieve to get all the rest of the liquid out.  Then proceed with the recipe.

Blend all ingredients together and chill for an hour.

To serve:  On large platter, surround bowl of Tzatziki with cherry tomatoes, cubes of feta cheese, Calamata olives, pickled hot peppers and wedges of pita bread.  You can dip the pita itself or tuck cheese, tomatoes, etc. into the bread before dipping!  

NOTE:  Soergel's in Wexford carries Heaven Mills gluten-free pita that is out of this world!  If you can't get to Soergel's, be sure to look for it wherever you buy your GF products.  Eden's in Mt. Lebanon carries it, too. 

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Poblano Potato Gratin

Who doesn't love a creamy, cheesy potato gratin...all gooey and rich and comfortingly familiar?  Unless, of course, you zip it up a little...add a little heat - just gentle heat...nothing over the top and make that old standby potato casserole into something new and interesting and fun?!  Why not use Pepperjack instead of Swiss or cheddar?  Oooo...and poblano peppers?!  And some salsa verde?!

Mmmmhmmm...that's exactly what I did for Easter dinner on Sunday.  Yep, we had ham and asparagus - my husband doesn't consider it Easter without both of those...but I just couldn't do the completely traditional dinner.  You know me, I had to jazz up the meal somehow.  And you know what?  This new gratin just might have a chance of becoming a brand new tradition around here!

Poblano Potato Gratin

  • 2 1/2 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and sliced thinly
  • 1 LARGE (or a couple smaller) poblano pepper - the one I used was about 6" long and HUGE - roasted and skinned, sliced across
  • 1/2 large onion, finely diced
  • 1/2 pound pepperjack cheese, grated
  • 1/2-2/3 c. half and half
  • Jane's Crazy salt, to taste
  • freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1/4 c. salsa verde, store bought  

Preheat the oven to 400.  

Butter a 1 1/2 quart shallow baking dish - you know, the kind you make your regular gratineed potatoes in.  Slice half the potatoes directly into the dish, spreading evenly and pressing down to compact them.

Layer all the onion and then all but a few slices of the poblano on top of the potatoes - save a few slices to decorate the top when you're done.  Sprinkle the Jane's Crazy salt and black pepper over the poblanos.  Scatter 3/4 of the cheese over the top and spoon the salsa over that.  

Finish with the rest of the potatoes on the top of the poblanos and press down and compact everything again.  Season with Jane's Crazy salt and pepper again and finish off with a little more cheese and a little more of the salsa.  

Lay the strips of poblano you saved decoratively over the top and gently pour the half and half over all.

Cover the dish loosely with foil and bake for about an hour or until the potatoes are tender and the top is browned and bubbly.

NOTE:  To char the pepper(s), lay them directly on the burner of the stove and char them on all sides, turning to be sure they are blackened all over.  Pop them into a bowl with a tight fitting lid or one that you can tightly cover with plastic wrap.  Let them sit until the peppers are cool.  Scrape the charred skins off the tender flesh and proceed with the recipe.  

Oh...and don't let anyone say you can't do this on an electric burner...I do!  Works just fine.   

NOTE 2:  If you haven't tried Jane's Crazy salt, it is a staple in my house!  Look for it in the spice section along with other seasoning salts...but don't bother with the other ones....Crazy salt is the best!

Hell, even Paula Deen used to use it before she started marketing her own brand!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Baked Spinach and Parmesan Brunch Eggs

Mmmmm...eggs and spinach.  What a perfect pairing!  While this little brunch dish is spending a little time in the oven, it gives YOU time to whip up some tasty Bloody Marys!  That makes a perfect pairing even perfect-er.  Yes, I know there is no superlative to this case there is.  A Bloody Mary makes everything better!

Baked Spinach and Parmesan Brunch Eggs

Makes 2 servings
  • 1/2 pound of fresh spinach - washed, dried, roughly chopped
  • 1 1/2 T. butter
  • 1/4 c. onion, finely chopped
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced finely
  • 1/4 c. half and half
  •  a few grinds of fresh nutmeg, or scant 1/8 t. bottled
  • 1/4 c. Parmigiano-Reggiano - yep, the good stuff!
  • freshly ground black pepper, to taste

  • 4 eggs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large skillet over medium heat, melt the butter and add the onion and garlic..  When they start to turn translucent, add all of the spinach to the pan.  Yes, it looks like one hell of a lot of won't be when you're done.  Add the half and half, nutmeg and the pepper, stir until the spinach starts to wilt.  Remove from heat.

Divide the spinach mixture between two ramekins or oven-proof dishes.  Make a large well in the spinach, divide the parm evenly between the two ramekins; break 2 eggs into each of the ramekins - yes, right in the center.

Drizzle a little more half and half over the yolks, sprinkle a little more parm over that and bake for about 20-25 minutes, depending if you like your eggs softer or harder.  Serve.  Don't forget the Bloody Marys!  

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Grilled Orange-Glazed Bok Choy Skewers

Grilled vegetables are one of the delights of summertime - okay, ANYtime!  While the veggies pick up those pretty grill marks, they also develop beautiful sweetness from some caramelization time over the flames.  At the same time, as long as they don't spend TOO much time over those flames, they are simultaneously tender and crisp.  SO good!

I fell in love with bok choy as a grilling veggie a couple of years ago when I found tender, small heads at the now long-lamented Right By Nature store in the Strip.  Oh, I've used it in stir fry for many years, but until that day it never occurred to me to try grilling this sweet and crunchy, frilly green-skirted relative of cabbage.  

The Right By Nature "small" heads were probably a good 8 to 10 inches long.  Last week I was perusing the piles of veggies at Lotus Foods in the Strip, hoping to find small heads again.  Find small heads, I did!  These were teensy, tiny, beautiful little baby bok choy...cute as the dickens!  The smallest were probably 2-3 inches long...adorable!  The "big" ones 3-4" long...perfect for threading onto skewers whole.  

Grill them I did...right alongside a couple loin pork chops and dinner was soon served.  It made for a healthy, low calorie, high fiber dinner, too!  Oh, and those teensy, tiny ones I still have in the fridge?  They're destined for the dinner table stir-fried whole.  Yum.   

Grilled Orange-Glazed Bok Choy Skewers

  • 8 small heads bok choy (about 4" long, if you can't find it this small, cut larger bok choy into pieces)
  • 1/2 sweet red bell pepper, cut into large cubes
  • 1/2 purple onion, cut into wedges

  • 2 T. orange marmalade
  • juice of 1 orange
  • 1 T. hoisin sauce (gluten-free to make this GF)
  • 1 T. soy sauce (wheat-free tamari to make this GF)
  • 1/2 t. granulated garlic
  • 1 t. honey
  • 1 T. vegetable oil
  • 1/2 t. 5-spice powder
  • 1/4 t. red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 1/2 t. dark sesame oil (optional)

 Alternate veggies on skewers - if you use bamboo skewers, be sure to soak them in water for an hour before threading veggies onto them (you don't want the bamboo to catch fire!)

Whisk the glaze ingredients together well.

Place veggie skewers on a hot grill, baste with glaze several times while grilling and remove when veggies are tender crisp.

NOTE:  Although the skewers are prettiest when you alternate the bok choy, peppers and onions, cooking time for individuals veggies is more accurate if you put like veggies on separate skewers.  i.e. all bok choy on one, all onion on another, etc.  

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Springtime Asparagus lasagna

For those of you who were wondering what the pasta dish in the foreground of yesterday's Sweet Tea Applewood Smoked Chicken Thighs was, here's both the answer AND the recipe...Springtime Asparagus Lasagna! 

Unfortunately, I don't recall when I first made this or where the original recipe came from to credit its creator.  Suffice it to say, it was long and many permutations ago.  Whoever, wherever you are, please know I will be forever grateful for my favorite non-traditional lasagna recipe.  It is the epitome of spring and makes a nice side dish to an Easter ham!

Springtime Asparagus Lasagna

  • 2 pounds asparagus, ends snapped off
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 lasagna noodles, no boil variety, or equivalent (gluten-free to make this GF)
  • 2 T. butter
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch (gluten-free to make this GF)
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
  • 1 lemon, zest only
  • salt, to taste
  • 1 cup parmigiano reggiano, freshly grated, and extra for the top
  • 1 cup heavy cream

Cut tips from asparagus spears; set aside separately.  Cut the remaining bottoms diagonally into 1/2" pieces; cook until tender-crisp and plunge into ice water. Drain and set aside.

Prepare the lasagna sheets according to package directions and drain.  Set aside.

Melt butter in a saucepan, add cornstarch and cook stirring over low heat until it begins to thicken.  Add broth and continue whisking until smooth.  Stir in feta, zest and salt; stir until sauce is smooth.  It's okay if the feta doesn't incorporate completely...nobody will ever know in the finished dish.

Butter the sides and bottom of a 9" X 9" pan.  

Drain pasta well.  Make 1 layer of noodles - cut to size, if you need to.  Spread with 1/4 of the sauce.  Top with 1/4th the reserved asparagus bottoms and sprinkle with 1/3 cup parm.  Continue layering, ending with a layer of noodles.

In a bowl, beat cream with just a pinch of salt to soft peaks.  Arrange the asparagus tips on top of the lasagna and gently put the whipped cream over the top.  Evenly scatter the remaining parm over the top.

Bake at 400  for 30-40 minutes or until golden and bubbling.  Let it cool for a few minutes before cutting.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Sweet Tea Applewood Smoked Chicken Thighs

Pittsburgh used to be known as Steel Town.  With the bumper crop of meat-centric establishments popping up all over the 'Burgh these days, it might more accurately be called Meat Town!  

With the likes of Cure - known for Justin Severino's succulent charcuterie; Meat & Potatoes - featuring the dichotomy of mammoth, macho marrow bones and smooth, delicate pates by Richard DeShantz; The Crested Duck -  focusing on not just meats, but fowl...hence the DUCK part of the name...from Kevin Costa and crew; and an old favorite, Parma Sausage in the Strip with their silken prosciutto...we are a meat-blessed town indeed.
Another of our former nicknames was the Smoky City....well, we might be able to reclaim that one!  These days, instead of noxious fumes hanging heavy in the air, we raise our noses to the scent of hickory, mesquite, apple, cherry, pecan....and the lush aromas of pork and beef, fish and shrimp, chicken, turkey and duck tickle our fortunate nostrils.  Snnnniiffffffff.  Ahhhhhhhhhh.  Drool.  Repeat. 

BBQ joints have opened their doors all over town recently. Union Pig & Chicken in East Liberty, Oakland BBQ in - duh, Oakland, Pittsburgh BBQ, Smoke BBQ Taqueria - smoked meats AND tacos, score!  We may not be in the BBQ Belt, but we're doing a pretty damned good approximation of it now.
Mark and I got the backyard smoking bug about 4 years ago.  We started out with a stack-style electric smoker. Electric may be easy to use, but owning an older home with an apparently inadequate bank of electric circuits made the constant checking of inconveniently flipped-off breakers a pain.  Mind you, it didn't stop us!  

Last year we switched to a charcoal version, but we didn't get off Scot free in the smoker tending department.  We are constantly checking to be sure the temp is maintained and doesn't go above or below the ideal smoking zone.  We traded off the convenience of accurately controlled electric heat for the far superior (but demanding!) flavor of charcoal.  Hey, that's a win!  I'll take exceptional flavor over convenience any time!  

Electric OR charcoal, there's nothing like an excuse to sit outside with a drink in one hand, tending the smoker with the other.  To my mind, that's why God made backyards.  I'm sure cavemen - and women, following the invention of fire, sat outside their cave openings (with whatever the precursor to a beer was) happily poking and prodding the flames and the evening's dinner with a stick.

Here's what we be poked and prodded on Sunday.

Sweet Tea Applewood Smoked Chicken Thighs

  • 8 bone-in, skin on chicken thighs
  • 6 tea bags
  • 1 quart water
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 1/4 cup salt
  • 1 T. freshly ground black pepper 

Start this the night before to allow the chicken to marinate in the brine for at least 12 hours and up to 24.  

In a saucepan, combine the water and sugar; bring to a boil and simmer until sugar is completely dissolved.  Add tea bags, remove from heat.
While the mixture is still hot, stir in the salt until dissolved.  Add lemon juice and pepper; let cool to room temperature.  

Put the chicken into a large zip top bag and add enough of the brine to completely submerge chicken, but still are able to close the bag securely.  Put the bag into a large bowl - if the bag leaks, it won't get all over your fridge!  Refrigerate the chicken overnight.

The next day, remove the chicken from the fridge and let it come to room temp. Prepare your smoker using your favorite wood chunks - we like apple for this recipe.  You can use water in the smoker bowl or get wild and use apple cider, white wine or beer!  Come to think of it, next time I think I'll try throwing some tea leaves and lemon slices into the water bowl! 

While the smoker comes up to temp, remove the chicken from the brine; discard the brine.  Dry each piece of chicken and arrange skin side up on the smoker rack.  Cover and smoke until the chicken is cooked through, but tender and juicy.  Slice through the biggest thigh right next to the bone to check for doneness.  When there's no pink next to the bone, they're done!    

NOTE:  The sugar in the brine helps to give a gorgeous mahogany color to the chicken!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Roasted Beet and Feta Salad with Horseradish Vinaigrette

My Roasted Beet and Feta Salad

Beets are sexy!  Deep, lush red in color, velvety in texture and sweet as honey...mmmmm.  They're on every menu in every high-end restaurant these days!  Have you noticed? 

I admit it, I've not always been a fan - at one time beets seemed to be relegated to the salad bar at an old peoples' joint - right alongside applesauce, cottage cheese and canned pineapple.  Canned beets just don't cut it, but roasted FRESH beets are a revelation!  There's a reason they've become the hot "new" vegetable.  They are delicious!!!!

Mieke, Tall Matt and I had dinner recently at Copper, overlooking the links at Walnut Hills Country Club in East Lansing, MI.  What a beautiful evening with family accompanied by beautiful food, too.  Mieke enjoyed a grilled pork porterhouse with mango relish - yum.  My entree was the whole rainbow trout stuffed with Boursin, sun-dried tomatoes and spinach - you know I was in heaven.  And Matt went light with a delicious linguine and blackened chicken, andouille and peppers...nice.  

The hit of the evening? My beet salad with feta and horseradish!  It made me swoon it was so good.  I vowed to recreate that one when I got home....well, recreate the flavors, not the presentation.  The presentation at Copper, while gorgeous(!), is beyond my everyday needs.  I'd rather spend the my time making this salad frequently instead of creating the perfect presentation with layers of thinly sliced cucumber.  While the cucumber was nice, it was unnecessary.  It was the beautifully dressed beets that I was after.

Copper's Beet Salad

Last night the long-lusted-after beet salad recreation appeared on our dinner table with some lemon and garlic grilled pork chops.  My version of Beet Salad with Feta was as good as Copper's!!!  The hubby and I dined well last night - maybe not overlooking the golf course, but just as happily.

Roasted Beet and Feta Salad with Horseradish Vinaigrette

  • 3 large beets
  • 2 tablespoons feta cheese, small crumbles

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons prepared horseradish
  • 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon dijon mustard
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, or more, to taste
  • freshly ground black pepper, a good amount

Heat oven to 450 degrees.  Gently scrub and trim beets to 2" of stems; dry.  (Save the greens!  They make a great side dish on their own when braised with a little sugar and vinegar!)  Lightly oil outside of beets with olive oil and place in an oven-proof dish.  Sprinkle liberally with kosher salt, cover dish with foil and roast beets until a knife slides in easily.  Remove from oven and cool.

While the beets are roasting, put the vinaigrette together: mix well the horseradish, vinegar, mustard, olive oil, salt & pepper.  Whisk until well emulsified.  Set aside.

Slip the skins off the cooled beets.  Grate the beets coarsely.  Pour about half the vinaigrette over and gently combine.  Mix in the feta, gently mix again.

Serve the additional vinaigrette on the side.