Thursday, December 18, 2014

Have A Figgy Old Fashioned Christmas!



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

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

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

Figgy Old Fashioned

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


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

Cheers!

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

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

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


Sunday, December 7, 2014

Saged Potato Dumpling Turkey Vegetable Soup




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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Saged Potato Dumpling Turkey Vegetable Soup

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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




Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Cinnamon Bourbon Cranberry Sauce








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

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

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

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

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





Cinnamon Bourbon Cranberry Sauce


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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Maryland Crab And Spinach Mac N' Cheese Lasagna






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

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

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

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

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

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


Maryland Crab And Spinach Mac N' Cheese Lasagna

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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





Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Uber Umami Porcini Pork Chops







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

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

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

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

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

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


Uber Umami Porcini Pork Chops


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





Thursday, November 6, 2014

Oatmeal Raisin Cookie Apple Crisp





It has been QUITE a while since there's been a quickie on Dinner Plan-it. It's time!

What's even better than Apple Crisp? A crisp with oatmeal raisin cookie dough baked onto the top. Here's how to make what amounts to an oatmeal cookie apple pie ala mode dessert that's sure to be a family favorite.


Oatmeal Raisin Cookie Apple Crisp


  • 6 C apples, peeled, cored, sliced approx. 1/4" thick
  • 1/2 lemon 

  • 1/2 C flour (I use a good gluten-free all purpose flour to make this GF)
  • 1 t cinnamon 
  • 1/8 t nutmeg
  • 1/2 C sugar
  • 1/4 C brown sugar
  • pinch salt
  • 1/3 C butter, softened
  • 1/2 C oats (I use certified gluten-free oats to make this GF)
  • 1/3 C raisins
  • 1/4 C pecans, chopped


Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Butter a shallow casserole dish (I used the 2 1/2 quart size French White Corningware oval casserole dish (approx. 8 1/2" X 11") - it's the perfect size!) and scatter the apple slices evenly in the dish. Sprinkle the juice of the lemon over the apples to keep them from turning brown while you make the topping.

In a large bowl, mix together the butter and sugars with a fork. Add the rest of the ingredients and combine thoroughly with the fork - I've been known to just use my fingers (clean, of course!) and work the mixture until it's crumbly and combined.

Crumble the oatmeal cookie dough over the apples. Cover the dish with foil and bake for about 20 minutes. Remove the foil and continue baking another 20 minutes or so until the apples are bubbly throughout and the cookie topping is beautifully browned. 

Cool about half an hour and serve warm with scoops of vanilla ice cream. 

NOTE: I like to use a nice tart apple that doesn't cook down to mush. You want an apple pie type apple, not an applesauce type apple. Try Granny Smiths, McIntosh or (my favorite) Stayman Winesaps. 



Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Angry Orchard Beef, Pumpkin & Apple Stew







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

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

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

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

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


Angry Orchard Beef, Pumpkin & Apple Stew 


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


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

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

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

Delicious!