Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Old Fashioned Pineapple Maple Ham Loaf

Has yet another an old time Pittsburgh classic been forgotten? Does anyone in Pittsburgh even remember what ham loaf is anymore? Sure, there's still ham salad to be found at your local ‘Burgh grocery store, but ham loaf?

You’ve never heard of it?  Similar to meatloaf, but with the addition of ground ham (duh), the pre-packaged, raw mixture used to be found in meat cases all around town.  Ready to mix together with a few other ingredients, shape into the classic loaf shape and bake, it was a quick and easy meal.  Easy and delicious. 

When we lived in Maryland and a craving for a taste of home in the form of ham loaf crept upon us, there was no such convenient mixture to be found.  Anywhere.  I asked the guy at the Giant (no relation to Giant Eagle) meat counter if they carried hamloaf mix - he never heard of it.  

So I figured I'd make my own.  "Where would I find the ground ham then?" I asked the butcher.  He looked at me blankly, then headed to the back to find out if any of the other butchers had ever heard of ground ham.  Eventually another butcher emerged…and he was smiling. The remembered conversation went something like this:

"You're from Pittsburgh, right?"
"How did you know?"
"It's like chipped ham...purely a Pittsburgh thing."  

Apparently we Pittsburghers like our ham.  Chipped, chopped, in salad, with cabbage and in loaf form...we just plain like our ham.  

What about that ground ham?  Could he do it? My new friend, the transplanted Pittsburgh butcher, explained that salt corrodes the metal of a meat grinder and, as much as he'd like to oblige, he just couldn’t do it.  The difficulty was that the grinder would have to be completely disassembled, cleaned thoroughly and reassembled before being used for anything else.  Okay.  Next idea.

My newly purchased, very first Cuisinart food processor rode to the rescue.  I did what any other desperate-for-ham-loaf, former Pittsburgh homemaker would do...I bought a ham, baked it for Sunday dinner and with the leftovers ground my own ham (enough for ham salad, too).  That beautiful Cuisinart chopped up ham until it was fine enough to make the perfect ham loaf! It worked like a charm.

The very same recipe my mom had used forever was brought back into play.  I've changed the recipe a little over the years, but it's basically the same trusted recipe that nearly every Pittsburgh wife and mother always made.  

A mixture of ground ham, beef, pork and veal is mixed together with freshly torn bread (gluten-free in our house), eggs, milk, salt & pepper - that was about it.  Mum always decorated the tops of the loaves with pineapple rings, and if she was feeling fancy she perched a maraschino cherry right in the center of each ring - just like on an Easter ham.  Her final step was to glaze the loaves to make them even prettier.  

Of course, I do the very same thing.  And don't tell anyone, but my favorite part of a fresh-from-the-oven ham loaf is the caramelized, sweet and salty-from-the-ham pineapple rings!

You all know by now how thrifty I am and you also know I make everything stretch as far as possible.  Besides ham loaf, ham salad and ham sandwiches, I always make some kind of soup with the hambone.  I’ll be posting a recipe for Butternut Chipotle & Ham Chowder soon.  

If you’re longing for a taste from Pittsburgh’s culinary history, or if you’ve never tried a ham loaf at all, you've got the recipe now!

 Old Fashioned Pineapple Maple Ham Loaf

Ham loaf:

  • 1 1/2 pounds meatloaf mix - combination of pork, beef and veal
  • 1 1/2 pounds ham, ground
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup freshly torn bread crumbs (I use Rudi's Multi-grain gluten-free bread to make ours GF)
  • pepper, to taste
  • 16 ounces pineapple rings in juice, not syrup, reserve juice


  •  1/4 cup reserved pineapple juice
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Mix the meats, milk, 1/2 cup of the reserved pineapple juice, eggs, bread crumbs and pepper until well combined.  Shape into 2 loaves (cook both and wrap and freeze one for later).  Decorate tops with pineapple rings. (TIP: Put a sheet of parchment paper in the bottom of the roasting pan.   The ham loaves come easily out of the pan and cleanup is a snap!)
Bake at 350 until done (approx. 1 1/2 hours depending on your oven), basting occasionally with glaze several times during the last half hour.   Remove to a platter, let sit for 10 minutes, slice and serve.  

NOTE:  The Cuisinart?  Still humming away over 30 years later.  They don't make 'em like that anymore.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Bar Marco: On the Cutting Edge of Ice

Bar Marco has an ice program.  No, not a show featuring Tai Babilonia or Dick Button nor even Sidney Crosby now that he apparently has some time on his hands.   

In the bar business, an ice program is one that only the best of the best cocktail establishments are taking on these days. They make ice.  Hand cut ice.  From the clearest, food-quality ice sculpture grade ice available.  And Bar Marco is the very first bar in town to bring that quality to Pittsburgh
Bar Marco partner, Bobby Fry (yep, that's Bobby behind the bar up there), recently spent almost two weeks apprenticing with Derek Brown at the famed Washington, DC speakeasy-ish Columbia Room hidden behind the equally-famed classic cocktail bar, The Passenger.  Yes, nearly two weeks of training went into learning just how to carve and perfect the right ice for your drink. 

Last Thursday was a stellar fall day to witness the ritual cutting of the ice outside Bar Marco in the Strip District.  The sun was shining and the temps were in the 80's...let the demo begin!

A large block of ice was set up on a cutting board outside and let to sit for a while.  The wait time reduces the chance of the ice fracturing at unwanted spots and angles, it's less brittle and more maleable.  Just right for carving. 

One big hunk of ice waiting to become perfect cubes.

The first ice-taming tool to come out of the chest is a cleaver worthy of any horror movie.  It isn't used to hack the ice, however.  It gently and smoothly scores guidelines into the surface.  (For right now the mighty cleaver is the tool being used. A similar looking Japanese udon noodle knife with a much finer blade is the preferred choice - Bar Marco is just waiting for it to arrive!)

Getting ready to score.
And then the manly tools come out, the testosterone surges and a crowd gathers on the street to witness the showYes folks, the chainsaw!  The call of the chainsaw never fails to summon curious onlookers and lovers of a streetshow.  Honestly, it's such a spectacle they could pass the hat for tips as the engine roars and the ice chips fly!

Do not try this at home!

The ice block slowly and carefully becomes slabs of ice, then each slab is deeply cut, again using the chainsaw but not all the way through, into precise columns.

And the columns of ice are then cut evenly into cube-ish shapes - again, not all the way through.

Now the cleaver is brought back into play to gently, but firmly, separate and trim the ice into nearly perfect cubes approximately 3" X 3" each.  Beautiful.   

One beautifully clear cube reflecting the sun and the scene.

But what's the point?  Why produce ice in such a time-sapping, laborious process?  What makes it better than what comes out of your refrigerator door?  It's the speed of the melt and the resultant controlled dilution of your drink. It's the attention to detail when creating a cocktail of the very finest shelf bourbons and ryes, peerless gins and liqueurs, the Perfect Manhattan or Martini made perfectly. 

Who wants a precisely made cocktail that in a minute or two is diluted beyond recognition with chipped ice or normal cube ice?  Probably not you and certainly not me...nor any discerning cocktail afficianado.  If you're the sort who appreciates the contents of the glass, the aroma, the mouthfeel, the subtle flavors vying for your tastebuds' attention, you're also just the person to appreciate the effort of an ice program to preserve your experience to the very last drop. 

Remember hearing about Derek Brown at the beginning of this post? What?! You don't know the Passenger or the Columbia Room?  The bar was named to GQ's 25 Best Cocktail Bars in America and to Food and Wine's 50 Best Cocktail Bars. Who is Derek Brown?  Only the owner of those esteemed establishments and himself a semi-finalist for the James Beard Foundation Outstanding Wine, Beer or Spirits Professional Award in 2010 and was featured in the Wall Street Journal's article, "Master of Mixological Science."  He knows his stuff.

GQ magazine also applauded Derek for making the best martini in America.  While Bobby was working with Derek he taught Bobby how to make his Perfect Martini.  Bobby shared the handed-down martini wisdom with me.  And now, I'm sharing it with you.  Here's how.

The Perfect Martini

  • 1 1/2 ounces London Gin - Bobby used Martin Miller's London Dry Gin
  • 1 1/2 ounces Dolin Vermouth
  • 1 dash Bittermens orange bitters
  • a wide strip of lemon zest, no white

In a martini pitcher, place 2 large, beautiful cubes of ice.  Measure in the gin, vermouth and the dash of bitters.  Stir 60 smooth turns gently around the pitcher.  
Two beautiful cubes in one beautiful martini pitcher.

Strain into a chilled martini glass and twist the lemon above the glass, forcing out the oils.  Rub the rim with the yellow side, if you wish.  Cheers!


 Bar Marco
2216 Penn Avenue in the Strip District
412 471-1900

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Dinner Plan-it 1st Birthday Capuccino Buttercream

's been a whole year since the very first post of Dinner Plan-it appeared out there in the wild world of the blogosphere...happy birthday, Dinner Plan-it!

Even at a mere 1 year old, a birthday can be a time for reflection, for studying where you've been (literally and figuratively) in the last year and where you'd like to go in the next.  We've come a long way in one year.  We've grown, we've changed...and over the year, we've learned a lot.

Kimber and I started together with an idea for a mom and daughter cooking blog...and that's one of the things that changed in the first year.  The time commitment to put out a food and dining (and drink!) blog is enormous and it's hard to find the massive amounts of time needed every week. Kimber's job AND social life, at this point in her life, are too full for this amount of time commitment.  

I say, good for her!  Kimber has her priorities straight!  Don't worry, though, she'll still pop in occasionally with new ideas...and a new boozy cupcake or two.  And you can be sure we'll still be collaborating on "researching" some fun, new brunch spots, lunch spots and nightspots!

Time commitment?  You mean what appears on Dinner Plan-it takes time?!  What shows up on each page is the result of many, many hours of work.  From meal planning, to recipe research, to testing, to cooking, baking, grilling or smoking the subject dish, to the photos, choosing just the right sexy food pic, uploading and editing it, to the hours of writing and editing each post, then uploading the post and...well, you get the idea.  It's a LOT of work, work that you have to be passionate about, work you have to love.  And I do.

Even with all that food-blogging love, sometimes there's some major headbanging involved, folks…it isn’t all smooth and simple all the time.  Those technical issues can be frustrating as hell!  AARRRRRRRGGGGGHHHHHH!  

Did you know food bloggers rarely have a hot meal?!  By the time I'm happy with the photo, the food is stone cold.  Thank God for the microwave...and a patient family.  If it sounds like I'm whining, I'm not - I wouldn't have it any other way. 

And then there's the weight gain.  Ugh.  Nothing further need be said on that subject.  Really.  

The best thing of all is being able to share the places and events that mean the most to me - Baltimore and Bad Decisions (that's the bar in Fells Point, not my life choices) and our lovely stay at The Admiral Fell Inn, family visits to Michigan and Ohio and West Virginia to visit and cook with all three daughters and sharing our stories.

Telling you about the always fun and food-filled adventures at the Food With Friends events in Annapolis - especially the Bounty of the Chesapeake and those gorgeous crabs (and some pretty gorgeous foodie friends, too!) is always a kick.  Coincidentally, Food With Friends is celebrating it's very own 1st anniversary in three weeks.  Stay tuned for that report!

Other highlights of the year included judging both the Culinary Competition and THE Great Happy Hour Competition at Savor Pittsburgh.  What an opportunity to meet and work with local chefs, restaurant owners, mixologists, fellow bloggers and food writers.  We all had (and have) our love of good food and fine spirits in common.   Such a fun and very down-to-earth group!

Judging the mixology competition of Shakin' It Up to Stop Lung Cancer for the LUNGevity Foundation just 2 weeks later was another incredible experience.  Sitting alongside Bill Toland of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and Michael Green of Gourmet Magazine was an honor.

Those were milestones in the life of Dinner Plan-it and my own.  I can hardly wait to see what new adventures and challenges are waiting to fill these pages next year.

Speaking of next year, where does Dinner Plan-it go from here? Again, I'm speaking both literally and figuratively.  There are lots of new restaurants just waiting to be discovered in Pittsburgh and beyond, lots of new dishes and drinks waiting to be recreated and shared.  There are so many chefs, bartenders and business owners that have great stories to tell.  I can't wait for you to hear them!

What else is new out there?  Bar programs in this city have exploded with amazing new mixologists, quality ingredients, housemade infusions, syrups and shrubs…there’s a story!  Pittsburgh definitely plays with the big boys in the bar program department now.

Bar Marco even has an ICE PROGRAM to produce and prepare just the right type of ice to highlight the top-shelf liquors behind their bar...and in your drink.  Wigle Whiskey is now making Ginever - and, rumor has it (reliably), they'll be producing their very own bitters!  New breweries are opening, including Aurochs Brewing Company, which produces Pittsburgh's first gluten-free beer, and The Brew Gentlemen  in Braddock!

There are new restaurants opening…Tender in Lawrenceville, Notions in East Liberty, an as yet unnamed replacement in the Strip District where the short-lived, yet lamented, Emilia Romagno used to be.  There are thriving restaurants I need to get to yet…Yinz-burgh BBQ, Spoon, Avenue B, Point Park AND Point Brugges, Echo, Bella Notte, The Savoy…I couldn’t begin to name them all. 

Okay, that’s Pittsburgh, but how about the “beyond” part?  The south is beckoning…explorations of Memphis or Nashville or New Orleans are definitely overdue.  Time will tell.  Stay tuned for that developing story.   

I’d like to improve the technical side of Dinner Plan-it, too.  Again, stay tuned….I foresee future, further forehead slapping when old and new technical issues and I once again collide.  Fist shaking at the computer does not help.  I know.  I’ve tried.  Please be patient as I work out the kinks?  

So there we are.  DPI's first year is under our belt and new adventures await.  There are new recipes to create and test and photograph and share.  With you.  That’s the entire reason Dinner Plan-it exists.  So Happy birthday, Dinner Plan-it!  Happy birthday and here’s to many more!  Let's toast with a cupcake!

Dinner Plan-it 1st Birthday Capuccino Buttercream

  • 6 cups powdered sugar, sifted and divided
  • 1 1/2 cups butter, softened
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  •  4 tablespoons milk+ extra in case you need it
  • 3 teaspoons espresso coffee, instant variety
  • 6 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon

Combine 3 cups sifted powdered sugar, butter, 4 T. milk and vanilla in large bowl.  Beat with electric mixer until smooth.  

Add espresso powder, cocoa powder and cinnamon; mix until thoroughly combined.  Add remaining powdered sugar; beat until light and fluffy, adding more milk 1 T. at a time as needed until it's a good spreading consistency.

Fit a pastry bag with a good wide tip.  Fill it 2/3 of the way up the bag with frosting and twist the top shut.  Squeeze dollops onto the top of the cooled cupcakes.  Make it pretty!  

Store in a cool place or in the fridge until ready to serve.

The recipe makes enough to generously frost 14 cupcakes.  For a cake, double the recipe.

NOTE:  Cupcakes like these were part of the cupcake display I made for Mieke & Tall Matt's wedding a few years ago.  Matthew (my grandson) is highly allergic to peanuts and tree nuts, you know my gluten issues.  So instead of bought cupcakes and a wedding cake, I was happy to make the desserts peanut, tree nut and gluten-free.  Nobody knew they were anything but delicious!  Not only that, the chef of the restaurant asked for the recipe.  He didn't get it, but you just did!

Oh...the cupcake itself?  Betty Crocker Gluten-free chocolate cake mix.  It's BETTER than regular!  Moist and rich.  Of course, I do doctor it a little.  The recipe on the box calls for 1 c. water.  I use 1/4 c. Kahlua and 3/4 c. water.  And I add 1 T. or so of espresso powder.    

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Smoky Poblano & Habenero 3-Cheese Macaroni

Who doesn't love mac n cheese for dinner?!  Most of us crave it...guiltily for most of us.  Not gonna lie, it isn't the best thing for your hips, yet our taste buds have fallen in love with the creamy, cheesey goodness that makes this traditional comfort food everyone's hands-down favorite.

Just for the record, "blue box" macaroni and cheese is NOT the old-time-y traditional version!  Too many kids have grown up without knowing the joys of REAL, from-scratch mac n cheese!  It isn't difficult, either. Boil the pasta, make a white sauce, add some cheese, mix them together, bake and voila!  Dinner is served. 

This version of the basic recipe uses roasted poblanos, smoked gouda, Cabot hot habenero cheddar and just a touch of fresh tomatoes combined into one of Mark's new faves.  If you like heat, you'll love this!  Smoked gouda added a bacon-y flavor, yet it's still a meatless dish that would be perfect to serve on Meatless Mondays or to some very lucky vegetarian friends.  

When it comes to the kiddies, though, this might not be the homemade version to start has a KICK!  Cabot Hot Habanero Cheddar Cheese may be over the top for little ones...and some big ones, too.  If you like your heat toned down just a little, simply use a milder hot pepper cheese...pepper jack would work just fine.  Or use all sharp cheddar & smoked gouda.  I won't mind at all.

Usually, I only make macaroni and cheese once a year.  My hips requested the sensible restriction, but my tastebuds (and Mark!) demanded otherwise. So I caved in and made macaroni and cheese TWICE this year!  Oops.  (The last mac & cheese post was Smoky Bacon & Beer, Gouda & Cheddar Mac and Cheese. 

Have your tastebuds apologize to your hips and make this...your hips may forgive you eventually.  Here's the newest guilty favorite mac & cheese....enjoy!

 Smoky Poblano & Habenero 3-Cheese Macaroni

  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch - check to be sure it's gluten-free to make this GF
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 2 cups milk, I use skim, use what you like...there's so much cheese, it doesn't make a difference

  • 4 cups smoked gouda cheese, shredded
  • 2 cups Cabot Hot Habanero Cheddar or a milder pepperjack, if you prefer
  • 1 pound elbow macaroni, cooked al dente, gluten-free to make this GF (the best is BiAglut)
  • 3 large poblano peppers, blackened, peeled, seeds removed, sliced
  • 1 tomato, seeds squeezed out & diced
  • 1/4 teaspoon granulated garlic

  • 1 cup sharp cheddar cheese, shredded

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In a saucepan, melt the butter and gradually add the cornstarch while whisking.  When smooth, add salt & pepper.  Gradually add milk, whisking constantly until the mixture thickens.  Add the cheeses slowly, whisking constantly.  

When the sauce is almost smooth (completely smooth isn't necessary), remove from heat and add to the cooked pasta.  Stir until thoroughly combined.  Set aside.

Butter the inside of a large casserole dish.  Layer half of the macaroni mixture in the bottom.  Set aside a few strips of pepper and a few pieces of tomato for garnish.  Dice the remaining poblano and scatter that and the tomatoes on top of the layer of mac & cheese.  Sprinkle with granulated garlic.  

Poblanos & tomatoes top the 1st layer of mac & cheese.

Top the veggies with the remaining mac & cheese, cover with shredded cheddar and arrange the remaining poblano strips and diced tomatoes on top.

Bake for 30-45 minutes and serve.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Pumpkin Spice Truffle Kisses

Trick or treat?  Treat!  Who would ever choose "trick" when a plate filled with Pumpkin Spice Truffle Kisses are the treat in question?  Yeah, that's what I

These treats are kind of a traditional crinkle cookie with a twist of pumpkin pie spice and espresso powder, topped with those hard-to-find Hershey's Pumpkin Spice Kisses.  They are so good!  But not easy to find.  As soon as Halloween candy starts to hit Target, WalMart and such, Mark and I both scout the aisles to score our holiday supply!

The recipe doesn't make a lot, only 2 dozen, but they are so chocolate-y rich and chewy that popping one of these pretty cookies into your mouth instantly satisfies your chocolate cravings...and leaves a contented jack-o-lantern grin behind.

 Pumpkin Spice Truffle Cookies

  • 12 ounces chocolate chips, I like Ghiradelli dark chocolate chips - more chocolate-y, less waxy than Nestles
  • 3 egg whites
  • 2 cups confectioner's sugar, divided
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder
  • 2 tablespoons espresso powder, instant
  • 2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt

  • 24 Hershey kisses, pumpkin spice variety - find these early before the Halloween season starts because they're hard to find later!

  • 1/2 cup confectioner's sugar
  • 1 teaspoon espresso powder, instant
  • 1 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice

Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper and preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Measure out 1 cup of the chocolate chips and set the rest aside.  Melt the chips in a double boiler over simmering water.  Set aside to cool slightly while you do the rest.

Using a mixer, beat the egg whites to soft peaks.  At slow speed, add 1 cup of the confectioner's sugar and mix until well-incorporated.  Beat at high speed until thick.  

Lower the speed to low again and add another cup of confectioner's sugar, cocoa powder, espresso powder, pumpkin pie spice and Kosher salt.  When these ingredients are well incorporated, raise the mixer speed to medium and beat until thick again.  

Add the melted chocolate chips and continue beating at medium speed until all the ingredients are mixed well and become a dough.  Finally, add the reserved chips and gently, but thoroughly, incorporate them into the dough.

Meanwhile, stir a teaspoon of espresso powder and 2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice together with 1/2 cup confectioner's sugar in a small bowl until well mixed.  Set Aside.

Using a large (1 tablespoon) cookie baller, scoop the dough into 24 balls.  Roll each until smooth and immediately roll in the sugar/espresso powder/pumpkin pie spice mixture.  

Set 12 balls on each cookie sheet, spaced evenly, and bake for 15 minutes.  Remove from oven and immediately sink a pumpkin spice Hershey's kiss into the center of each cookie.  Set the sheets on cooling racks and let the cool completely.  Do not store these until the Hersey's kiss is completely cooled and SET again.  You don't want any smooshed kisses! (That's "smooshed" not smooched...everybody likes smooches!)

Store in an airtight tin with wax paper or plastic wrap between each layer so the powdery cookies don't make the kisses powdery too.  Keep your kisses clean!

NOTE:  These are naturally gluten-free!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Chipotle Apple & Bacon Smoked Meatloaf

We're smokin' again! Making hay while the sun shines...or something like that.  I wish I could say we were lounging on the deck, enjoying the gurgling of the pond with a cold one while tending the smoker, but that was not to be.  
Mark and I were like Aesop's busy ant getting ready for the winter doing the mowing, the leaves, winterizing the pond, moving potted plants from the deck to their winter home in Kimber's old get the picture.  At least once the work was done, dinner was quite the reward!

What were we smoking?  Chipotle Apple & Bacon Smoked Meatloaf.  Now, some pretty fantastic stuff comes off our smoker on a regular basis (like the Spiced Apple Balsamic Smoked Pork Loin we did recently). Frequently, something really knocks our socks off, THIS went above and beyond even that!
Yes, the smoky, meaty, wonder that Sunday's smokefest produced is a simple meatloaf.  Okay, it might be simple to make, but the flavors are anything but boring.  This succulent merger of meats…ground pork and beef, studded with sweet apple chunks and onion, underscored by a double smoky duo of bacon and chipotle pepper and smoked over applewood...became something so much more than any meatloaf either of us has ever had before.  

Slow smoking, bacon and juicy apples helped to keep the finished product moist, yet firm.  From the pic, you may think there was a glaze involved in the process.  No glaze, just the beautiful color produced by smoke and time that painted the surface with picture perfect apple-y, bacon-y richness.     

You're probably thinking, "But wait, meatloaf on the smoker?  Doesn’t it ooze through the grates?"  Nope, no oozing.  I figured that one out.  Duh...aluminum foil over the grate with a few holes poked into it to let the smoke circulate worked perfectly.  Not exactly a genius solution, but an easy one.

If you don't have a smoker or if it's the middle of winter (and too cold outside to keep the temp up inside the smoker), just make it in the oven.  It won't have that through and through smoky goodness, but it will still be absolutely delicious. 

Give this one a try...sweet applewood smoke added a dimension so delicious to a plain old meatloaf that we'll be making it often around here.

 Chipotle Apple & Bacon Smoked Meatloaf

  • 1 pound ground pork
  • 1 1/2 pounds ground beef, 80/20
  • 3 slices bacon, thick sliced, cut into 1/2" pieces
  • 1 1/2 large onions, chunked
  • 2 apples, peeled, cored & cut into 1/2" dice
  • 4 cloves garlic, BIG ones
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 1/2 cups fresh whole grain bread made into fine crumbs, - use gluten-free bread to make this GF
  • 1/2 tablespoon Kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper, LOTS
  • 1 teaspoon chipotle chili pepper (Penzey's carries this and even McCormick does now, too!)
  • 1 slice bacon, thin slice, cut in half across

While the food processor is running, drop the garlic cloves down the tube and process until they're fine.  Add the onions and process until fine.  Set aside.

Saute the bacon until it releases most of the fat.  Add the onions & garlic and the apple and cook until the onion is translucent.  Remove from heat and let cool.

Mix the meats, eggs, breadcrumbs, salt & pepper and chipotle pepper.  Mix lightly, but well.  Add the apple mixture and again mix lightly, but well.  Shape into two loaves.   (Making two smaller loaves lets them cook through more easily and gets more smoke flavor deep into the meat.  The other advantage is you can easily put one in the freezer to enjoy when it's too cold out to smoke!)  Stretch a piece of bacon of the top of each loaf to make it pretty and tell you what's inside.   


Lookin' all pretty and ready to smoke!

Prepare the smoker, using applewood chips, the way you normally would.  Place aluminum foil over the grate and poke a few holes through it.  Gently settle the meatloaves onto the foil.  Cover and smoke.  Maintain the temp around 225-250 degrees and add soaked applewood chips as necessary.  It took ours about 5 hours.  How long it takes will depend on the size of the loaves and the temperature so check along the way.

When done, remove to a platter and let sit for 20 minutes before slicing. 

Be sure to make some great sandwiches with the leftovers!

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Vanilla Bean Tequila Pumpkin Pie Cocktail

It isn't just food that transitions gently into the fall, cocktails begin to taste of pumpkin, cider, cinnamon and clove...they start to echo the feeling of the season.  Think comfort food in a glass.  This lush, creamy cocktail is almost a dessert.  In fact, it makes a fabulous liquid dessert!  

Creamy with pumpkin and RumChata and a touch of heavy cream, made rich with vanilla-infused tequila and warm spices, the chocolate cookie rim makes a nice crunchy contrast.  It makes me think of Thanksgiving pumpkin pie in a decadent chocolate-y crust.  No wonder I like it as a dessert!

Vanilla beans transform tequila into a lush, rich new spirit.    Depending on the quality of your tequila, you might simply sip it on the rocks!  I'm working on using it in cakes, pies and frostings with fall flavors.  Pina Colada cupcakes with vanilla tequila, pecan pie, caramel tequila get the idea.  

And the infusion is very easy to do!  Split a few vanilla beans (I used four - use more or less depending on how deep a vanilla flavor you're looking for) and simply slip them into a bottle of your favorite tequila, let it rest for a week or two or more.  

The lovely liquid turns into the color of a good, sweet rum.  You don't have to break the bank, either, buying vanilla beans.  Reasonably priced Madagascar vanilla beans can be purchased at  Definitely easier on the budget than the grocery store type...and fresher, in my opinion.

Vanilla Beans Soaking in Tequila.

Cozy up to a warm fire while the leaves blow outside the window.  Snuggle up with your sweetie or enjoy a good conversation and hearty laughs with friends...enjoy the evening with a pumpkin cocktail.  Here's a toast to fall.  And friends.  Cheers!

 Vanilla Bean Tequila Pumpkin Pie Cocktail

  • 3 ounces RumChata
  • 1 ounce vanilla-infused tequila blanco
  • 1 teaspoon pumpkin butter (1heaping barspoon full)
  • 1/2 ounce heavy cream
  • 1/2 ounce simple syrup, cinnamon
  • ice cubes

In a cocktail shaker, add RumChata, tequila, pumpkin butter, cream, simple syrup and shake until pumpkin butter is mixed in thoroughly.  Add ice 3/4 of the way up shaker, cap tightly and shake until the tin is cold and frosted.  

Strain into a cocktail glass or martini glass that has been rimmed with crushed chocolate cookies or gingersnaps.  Dust with pumpkin pie spice.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

German Potato & Bacon Pancakes

Something hidden deep in our DNA demands a return to dinners that, in the fall, both fill and warm our tummiesIs it our prehistoric ancestors who doomed us with a compulsion to pack on pounds to survive both the cold and a scarcity of food over the winter months?  

There's good with the bad, though...sometimes the comfort foods of cool weather warm our hearts, too.   Especially when they connect you with memories of your childhood and family.

My German heritage meant there were some pretty hefty foods in the family Sauerbraten, Schnitzel, potato dumplings and spaetzle...that summoned up those warm feelings of comfort for the Engbarth family.  Why, oh why, do Germanic comfort foods HAVE to be the kind that packs on the pounds?!  The fam tries not to eat like that anymore, but occasionally we do enjoy an old favorite.  

One of the best of the best of those handed-down-favorite-recipes was my mother's potato pancakes.  As heavy German dishes go, this one was "lighter" than most...faint praise, I know...hey, there aren't any cream sauces involved! 

Healthy or not, she didn't make them often - not because they were bad for us - but because she risked life, limb and fingertips grating pounds of potatoes by hand.  She HATED shredding potatoes, we LOVED the potato pancakes.  She must have really loved us to have even made them once a year.

And then.  God bless the French, they invented the Robot Coupe (the forerunner of Cuisinart).  Shredding potatoes suddenly became a snap!  Instant gratification in the form of nearly instant potato pancakes!  The miracle technology didn't happen in time for mom to take advantage of the time saving (and knuckle-saving!) machine, but it arrived in time for me to make them for her before she passed away.   I think she was amazed and maybe even slightly jealous!

What are potato pancakes like? They're lacy and light, yet substantial at the same time, crispy, crunchy on the outside and tender on the inside with great potato flavor. There are two traditional ways to enjoy them that I know of...with applesauce, the way I like them best, or with sour cream - that's how Mark likes them.  And when Mark's feeling wild, he does them up royally loaded baked potato style with sour cream, shredded cheddar, bacon and green onions.  That's almost a meal in itself!

Fully loaded!

I've changed mom's recipe just a little to add crisp bacon once in a while.  Of course, I use gluten-free flour for ours....just use regular all-purpose flour if gluten isn't an issue for you. 

Do you call them latkes?  Sometimes I do, too.  It really doesn't matter WHAT you call them.  Maybe give them a try for dinner with brats or for breakfast with bacon, maybe use all white potatoes or maybe use half shredded sweet potatoes.  Most of all, maybe they'll create memories that will make you and your family feel all comfy and warm inside, too.


German Potato Pancakes

  • 6 medium baking potatoes, leave the skins on!
  • 1/2 small onion
  • 3 slices bacon, cooked crisp
  • 3 tablespoons flour, gluten-free to make these GF (Jules' is my fave!)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • fresh ground black pepper, to taste (I like lots!)

  • oil

Fit your food processor with a shredding disk.  Feed the potatoes through the tube.  Next feed the onion through, then the bacon.  Everything goes through the processor and into the processor shredding or chopping at all!  Transfer the contents into a large bowl.

Add the flour and the egg, season with salt and pepper.  Mix well and thoroughly.

Heat a scant amount of oil for each batch in a large skillet - I use a large, griddle-sized electric skillet.  Using an ice cream scooper, make mounds and space them out to allow them to spread.  Press each mound down with a spatula and flatten them out well.  Brown well on one side, flip and brown well on the other.  

Flattening the mounds into pancakes!

As each batch is done, remove to a paper towel covered plate and keep them warm in the oven until they're all done.

Serve with sour cream or applesauce.  Or load them up like baked potatoes with sour cream, shredded cheddar, bacon bits and green onions. 

NOTE:  This makes approximately eighteen 4-5" pancakes.  

The amount of oil you use to fry them determines how many calories are in each.  Not including the oil, they're only 68 calories each.  It's up to you whether you use Pam & keep the calories low or use a little oil for a few more calories.