Bacon-Sausage-Prune Infused Stuffing

This was my first attempt at cooking stuffing. This Thanksgiving I plan on cooking everything from scratch, and even though it is a big task to take on, I am very excited.

Last weekend I decided to do a test run for the stuffing that I will make for Thanksgiving day, because to me, stuffing is more important than the Turkey. I love stuffing and, in my opinion, having poor-tasting stuffing on the big day can ruin the whole meal.

The first thing I did to prepare for my big cooking day was to peruse the internet for stuffing recipes. I looked at the MarthaStewart website, where I got the idea to use bacon. I read Simplyrecipes, where I got the idea for using French bread. And then I read a myriad of other blogs to get the basics for cooking stuffing. I decided to make a medley of the different recipes and to make my stuffing with prunes, sausage, bacon, and french baguette besides the regular ingredients such as celery, chicken stock, onions and butter.

I woke up on Sunday morning and went to the Bethesda Central Farmers Market, and walked around to see which ingredients I could purchase. I try to prepare most of dishes with organic ingredients when I can. I stopped by the Meat Crafters stand and purchased some Kielbasa sausage. (Apparently their recipe is a traditional recipe made of fresh pork, garlic, marjoram, and black pepper.) Then I walked over to the Bending Bridge Farm stand and purchased some onions. They grow their produce with care and patience and offer a myriad of fresh, organic produce.

Beside sausage and onions, I was not able to purchase any of the other ingredients I needed, so I went to my local supermarket where I was able to find the remaining ingredients. I headed home and immediately began cooking.

Bacon-Sausage-Prune infused Stuffing:

1 whole wheat French baguette
1 cup prunes (cut the prunes in half)
1 cup chopped celery
1 cup chopped onion
1 1/4 cup of chicken stock
6 tbsp of butter
4 or 5 strips of bacon
2 keilbasa sausages chopped
2 tbsp of sage
1/2 tbsp of rosemary
1/2 tbsp of thyme
Salt and Pepper to taste

I tore up the French bread into small pieces, and since it was not a day old, it was still very fresh, a good trick, I learned, is to put the bread in the oven for 10 to 15 minutes at 350 degrees or until it dries out. Then place the bread in a medium sized saute pan over medium heat, cover the bread with 3 tablespoons of butter and let the bread brown but not burn. In a different pan saute the onions, celery, and sausage in 3 tablespoons of butter. Let the sausage fully brown then add the bacon. After the bacon has been completely fried and become crispy add the sauteed bread from the other pan, all of the chicken stock, sage, thyme, rosemary, salt and pepper. Then cover the mixture and allow to simmer on a low heat for an hour. Every 15 minutes check on the mixture to make sure it has not become too mushy and is not sticking to the pan.

Bacon-Sausage-Prune StuffingIf I may say so myself, the stuffing tuned out well. It had the perfect balance of flavors and it was not too salty (I feared this because of the chicken stock). This stuffing was very easy to make and did not take a lot of prep time. Perhaps the one thing I will add for Thanksgiving day are some chestnuts. I find chestnuts to be a very fall/wintery ingredient and should add some texture to the stuffing.

Voila. You have a delicious organic easy to make stuffing for your turkey on the big day.

Pumpkin Liqueur for Halloween Fun Times!; or, How I Failed at Pumpkin Juicing.

PPumpkinCrush I try to keep my food and beverage choices on the natural and local side, but sometimes that plan goes awry. See this week when I got a hankering for a pumpkin cocktail, and decided that what I needed was some pumpkin juice, which I was pretty certain I could make myself. So I bought myself a 1 1/2 lb pumpkin at the friendly neighborhood Whole Foods (Yeah, I know the pumpkin was probably from Idaho; so sue me), chopped it up, and chucked it in a food grinder. I then squeezed the resulting pumpkin slurry through cheesecloth, and retained the sweet, sweet pumpkin juice that trickled out.

PPumpkinJuice Ever try to juice a pumpkin without a proper juicer? Don't know what you ended up with, but I got about 50ml of liquid and a sink full of dishes for my trouble. There's got to be a better way! A lot of the top mixologists these days are using canned pumpkin to add some autumn flavor to their creations; I shunned this option pretty much out of spite. Screw that devil's fruit, and natural be damned -- suddenly I wanted something orange in a bottle!

PSpiceLiqueur In my line of work, I see a lot of wacky liqueurs, but I've only ever seen one flavored of pumpkin. Apparently, the value-for-cost ratio for producers is on the low side, so the only game in town is from good 'ol Hiram Walker, makers of the finest garish-colored, sugar-loaded mixers money can buy! I picked up a bottle of their Pumpkin Spice Liqueur at One West Dupont Wine and Spirits for about $10.

So what to say about the Hiram Walker Pumpkin Spice Liqueur? How about this from the producer's website?:

"The bold pumpkin pie, graham cracker and vanilla taste of Hiram Walker Pumpkin Spice mix(es) deliciously with any spirit for unique and festive seasonal cocktails."


PTriaminic On its own, this stuff is undeniably awful: The color, though, is truly amazing, reminding me of that bright, mesmerizing, other-earthly orange of Triaminic Cold Syrup. The nose is medicinal and slightly creamy, with a high note of some sort of undefinable fruit. On the palate, it very sweet and corn syrup smooth, with some of the advertised graham cracker, along with more of that unpleasant, bizarre medicinal thing.

PMartini I was skeptical, but I have to say, though absolutely undrinkable on its own, this stuff is really not a bad mixer. Oh, sure, when mixed 1:1 with vodka as suggested on the back label it's almost WORSE, but when used in an ensemble, this player has quite a bit to add.

 First, I tried a simple Manhattan recipe using two parts rye whisky, substituting one part Pumpkin Liqueur for red vermouth, with a couple dashes of bitters. Even with the brown spirit as a base, the cocktail came out a festive neon orange. The medicinal flavors are completely sublimated by the other spirits, and the sweetness is nicely tempered by the dry, spicy whisky; most of the liqueur's influence is asserted in the finish as pleasing vanilla and cinnamon notes.

PMargarita I also took the classic Margarita and squashed that shit up. The recipe was as follows:

2 Parts Tequila
1 Part Pumpkin Spice Liqueur
1/2 Part Triple Sec

When shaken and poured over ice, the end result was similar to the Manhattan; a BRIGHT ORANGE expression of the original, made slightly sweeter, with notes of vanilla and cinnamon on the finish. Not bad at all, highly festive, and easy to whip up as a pitcher drink, if you stir instead of shake.

PPunch Speaking of pitcher drinks, I came up with a pretty tasty punch amongst my experiments with my new Tang-colored friend. Behold, the Autumn Harvest Punch!


1 1/2 Parts Rye
1 Part Pumpkin Liqueur
1 Part Apple Cider
Dash of Bitters

Thanks to the opaque brown cider the Autumn Harvest came out a bit more naturally colored, though still very seasonally appropriate. This one had the perfect amalgamation of fruit, spice, vanilla, and bite. I tried it on the rocks with a bit of cinnamon on top, but I also imagine it would be great served hot. (Note: I used a very dry rye for this; if you make it with a sweeter whisky like Jack, up the whisky percentage to keep things balanced).

PSpiceMartini Finally, I thought it would be good to try something a little more on the highbrow side. Believe it or not, it's hard to find a complex cocktail based on a $10 rail liquor, but there was  one promising candidate from Colleen Graham of

Pumpkin Spice Martini

1 1/2 oz rye whiskey
1 1/2 oz Modern Spirits Pumpkin Pie Vodka or Hiram Walker Pumpkin Spice Liqueur
1/2 oz triple sec
1/4 oz anise liqueur
1 egg white
3 dashes Angostura aromatic bitters
grated nutmeg for garnish (optional)

Pour the ingredients into a cocktail shaker filled with ice.
Shake vigorously (to ensure the egg is properly mixed)
Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
Sprinkle grated nutmeg on top if desired.

This was an amazing cocktail, and also pretty easy to assemble. On the nose, this one was heavy on the rye spice, with an assertive licorice note. The texture was full and silky, with mulling spices mingling well with orange and anise, leading to a creamy, smooth, easy going vanilla finish.

I have become used to being a failure, but rarely does it turn out this well. While I am sure pumpkin juice is great and all (apparently its all the rage at Hogwarts), it turns out the Hiram Walker Frog is actually a bright orange Prince. As I said, I picked mine up at One West Dupont Wine and Spirits, but it should be pretty widely available this time of year. Got a shindig goin' down this weekend? Grab a bottle, and have yourself a spicy, road-cone orange Halloween!




Autumn Menu: Grilled Tenderloin and Fall Hash

Whoever decided that Labor Day marks the end of the "grilling season" has never stood in front of a warm Weber on a crisp fall afternoon. Between the football and the drop in temperatures, fall is a fantastic time of year to cook outdoors.

The change in seasons also changes what I like to grill. The fish, shrimp and seafood that grill in the summer is replaced by lamb, pork and heartier cuts of meat. Roasted tomatoes and young garlic are replaced by sauteed brussel sprouts, and roasted turnips and potatoes. Despite the fact that my house has central heat, I plan meals like I have to stay warm in a yurt.

Much of this is due to the fact that vegetables like tomatoes are no longer in season, while brussel sprouts are just coming on. But I can get either product all year. No, the real reason is the trigger the weather flips. I no more want shepherd's pie in August as I want ceviche in February. 

That being said, pork tenderloin is my meat of all seasons. It's easy to cook, flavorful as hell and a relatively cheap cut of meat. A few years ago, when my wife and I lived in North Carolina, a lot of pork tenderloin moved through our little Chapel Hill apartment. She was going to grad school and I was working a couple jobs to help make that happen, so a four pound tenderloin that could feed us for several days was a household favorite.

DSCN5692 Now that we're into the fall, I like to pair the tenderloin with a seasonal hash of carrots, apples, onions and potatoes. You could even swap out the potatoes for squash or pumpkin, or just add it to the mix. I also add a bit of bacon to punch up the flavor and because I like bacon. A poached egg works real well, too.

To go with the dish, I like brown ales and dark beers. Honestly though, any fall seasonal would work. We've moved from the light, refreshing pilsners and pale lagers of summer to the darker, richer beers better suited for fall and winter.

In fact, I've been sitting on the bottle of Autumn Maple from The Bruery that I picked up in August. I bought it with this post in mind, but it was also just too damn hot at the time. Who wants a sweet, malty high alcohol (10.5%) beer when it's 96 degrees outside? Screw that and pass the hefeweizen.

To make this Belgian-style dark ale, the Placentia, Ca., brewery uses yams - lots of yams - molasses and spices, including cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice. The result is deeply rich, spicy ale that's just a bit sour and more than a bit sweet.

DSCN5717 If you can't find a bottle of Autumn Maple or just want to try something else, grab a six pack of Sierra Nevada's Tumbler brown ale. The craft brewing community has gone wild for big, hoppy India Pale Ales during the past few years, but Tumbler shows that the heavy weights of craft beer do other styles of beer just as well (that said, Sierra Nevada's Tornado Extra India Pale Ale is an outstanding hoppy beer).

So grab a coat and get outside, there's grilling to be done.

Grilled Pork Tenderloin and Fall Hash
(Makes six servings)

DSCN5681 1 4-5 pound pork tenderloin
1 apple, Granny Smith or similarly crisp apple, diced
4 carrots, pealed and diced
6 potatoes, diced
3 cloves of garlic, diced
2 red onions, pealed and diced
3 strips of bacon, fried and diced
1 lemon, halved
1 egg, poached (optional)
Salt and black pepper

Generously season the tenderloin with salt and pepper, and set aside while you prepare the grill. For this recipe, you'll need two zones - one hot, one cool - so you can sear the tenderloin before allowing it to cook slowly for 90 minutes.

When the grill is ready, sear all sides of the meat until brown and then place the tenderloin on the cool side of the grill with the fat cap up and close the lid.

As the pork cooks, prep the rest of the ingredients, making sure the apples, carrots, potatoes and onions are diced the same size so they cook at the same rate. The dice should also be small, so it cooks fairly quickly.

After the pork has been on for an hour, place a pan on the sideburner or on the grill and fry the bacon. Remove the bacon from the pan and add the diced carrots, potatoes, garlic and onions, and season with salt and pepper. Sautee for 20 minutes or until the potato browns and softens (as an alternative, you can sautee the vegetables for 10 minutes and then stick the pan on the grill for 10 minutes). Add the diced bacon and apple, and cook for another 10 minutes. Remove everything from the pan so the apples don't overcook.

DSCN5696 (If you want to add a poached or fried egg - and you do - now is the time to cook the egg.)

After an hour and 20 minutes, the pork should be about ready to come off the grill. Using a meat thermometer, the internal temperature should be 165 degrees. If it's fully cooked, allow the meat to rest for 10 minutes before slicing. Before serving, squeeze a little lemon on the pork.

And if you haven't already, pop open the beer and enjoy.

Escape the Heat: Mediterranean Salad

Therm We're gonna cheat a little on the no-cook mandate, but the weather is cooling down, so can you handle about 15 minutes of stove work?  You can even prepare the ingredients in advance on a cool day or at night and store them in the fridge until later.

I can't expound the benefits of this salad enough.  While I have a healthy love for brown sugar Pop Tarts, a juicy NY strip, cheese of any kind and bacon, this recipe is my redemption.  It takes advantage of all the fresh tomatoes and basil in the markets right now and can serve as a complete, guilt-free meal.  It's also ultra-nutritious:  pack a container for lunch and I promise it will carry you through the mid-afternoon doldrums and give you the energy to get to the gym.


Try to find French green lentils, also called lentilles de Puy and not to be confused with those bags of light Lentilsgreen lentils in the super.  This variety of lentil holds its shape when cooking, but if you have to use the light green ones, subtract a couple minutes cooking time and aim for al dente or you'll end up with a mushy salad.  I've had a difficult time finding them lately, but I refused to believe there was an area-wide run on French lentils, so a random stop at Rodman's turned up 17.5-oz. boxes of Roland Green Lentils.  (Can I take this moment here to express my love for all things Roland?  This company single-handedly provides a fix for multiple food addictions, many of them olive-related.  And also Rodman's, while I'm at it.  They are a foodie's version of a methadone clinic.)

How much do you use?  Simmer a cup of dry lentils for about 15-20 minutes.  Drain, cool for a few minutes and season them with a tablespoon of vinegar (white, red wine or balsamic...your pick, depending on your palate), salt and pepper.


Use whole wheat couscous if you'd like to increase the healthfulness, regular couscous if it doesn't matter to you (or if that's all you can find).  About one cup, prepared according to directions.  You can cook this at the same time as the lentils.

By the way, you can find all the ingredients for this in Rodman's or Trader Joe's.  TJ's doesn't have French green lentils, but they do sell bags of pre-cooked black Beluga lentils, which can be subbed in with no problem (and no cooking!).TJ lentils


Mash a garlic clove** with 1/4 tablespoon salt.  Whisk this with another 2 tablespoons of vinegar, about 3 tablespoons of olive oil and salt and pepper to taste.  In a large bowl, stir together this dressing with the lentils and couscous.  **If raw garlic is too powerful, toast the clove in a dry pan on a medium-heat stove for a minute or two until lightly browned to tone down the flavor.


Tomatoes:  two cups of halved cherries, pears or grapes, or seeded and diced Romas, heirlooms or any garden variety tomato you can find.

Cheese, glorious cheese:  feta is the traditional choice.  I prefer goat feta because I like its tanginess but I've also used regular goat cheese (one that is on the firmer side).  Chop a 4-oz. chunk and add.

Greens:  basil, definitely, at least a cup.  Spinach and/or arugula are fantastic in this salad, too, and increase its nutritional value tremendously -- try a chopped cup of each or 2 cups of one.  Arugula_300 You could probably add mint, too, but there are so many strong flavors competing in this already that it might be overkill.

Pignolis, or pine nuts:  totally optional, but if you have them on hand, add a quarter cup.   Toast them first (with the garlic!) for a nuttier flavor, but watch carefully as they can turn from brown to burnt in a heartbeat.

Give everything a stir and let it chill for an hour or more.  It will last several days in your fridge...if you can keep it around that long.  Enjoy it as a side dish with any grilled protein or as a complete meal by itself.  Bring it to a potluck and you will be asked for the recipe.

Again, this recipe is highly customizable.  It's also a good vehicle for testing your palate, so taste frequently and adjust according to your own preferences, regardless of the amounts I provided, which are really just guidelines.  However, be cautious with salt, as the cheese will add its own, and with this recipe it's hard to undo the damage of too much salt.


Escape the Heat: Ceviche

Therm People can be squeamish about fish.  I used to work in the seafood department of a supermarket and frequently fielded such head-shaking questions as, "Does it smell like fish?" or my favorite, from a woman standing in front of a tank of lively rainbow trout, "Are they fresh?"

Don't fear the fish.

The truth is fish are among the most versatile, healthy and easy to cook proteins available to us.  Grill it, fry it, poach it, flash-cook it -- it's quite hard to screw it up.  Hell, you can even stick it in the oven still frozen and have it turn out great.  But it's hot, it's humid, and it's DC, so we're all about no-heat meals right now.  Which brings us to the next Escape the Heat recipe:  Ceviche.

Technically, ceviche is not cooked, per se, because the process doesn't use heat.  But the citric acid marinade denatures the proteins in the fish enough to change the texture and appearance.  Read this for a brief but more comprehensive explanation of this process, along with some alternatives if you're still a little undecided about raw fish.  If you'd like to try ceviche professionally prepared before attempting it on your own, I highly recommend Oyamel, which serves some fantastic varieties.

Your basic components are fish, acid and seasonings:


Use a firm fin- or shellfish, the freshest you can find.  Tuna, mahi mahi, snapper, grouper.  I like wild salmon, such as sockeye, sliced thin.  For shellfish, scallops, shrimp and crab all work well.  Or any combination of these.

Cut or slice the fish in bite-size pieces.  If the shrimp are small, shell and tail them and leave them whole.  Scallops may be sliced or chopped.  If you use a combination of fish, just make sure they're uniform in size, since they're all "cooking" together. Ceviche


Lime juice is key.  (Again with the limes!  I can't say it enough:  a well-stocked summer kitchen needs a lot of limes!)  Some people also use lemon and/or orange juice, or a combination of the three.  How much?  For about a pound of fish, you'll need at least a 1/4 cup of juice, maybe a little more.


Onions:  usually red, maybe shallots, too, if you like. One onion should do it.

Cilantro:  a good-sized handful, chopped, with stems.  Then add some more.

Jalapenos, one or two, minced, with the pith and seeds if you like heat, without if you don't.

Sea salt, to taste.

Other options:  tomatoes or tropical juicy fruit like pineapple, mango, papaya.  It's really hard to screw up the ratios, so if you feel like being more liberal with the onions or jalapenos, go for it.  The only ingredient you need to make sure you have enough of is the citrus juice.


Mix the lime juice with the seasonings , or grind the seasonings first in a mortar and pestle (or my version:  a Pyrex measuring cup and the handle-end of a citrus reamer) if you want to really bring out the flavors before mixing them into the juice.  Spoon a little of the mixture in the bottom of a nonreactive baking dish (i.e. glass, ceramic or Pyrex), layer the fish on top and add the rest of the juice/seasonings.  If you're using a small dish, layer it like lasagna, alternating between fish and juice.  The fish does not need to be swimming in the marinade, or even completely covered, although you will need to turn it partway through the cooking time to ensure all fish has contact with the juice.  Cover the dish with plastic wrap and store it in your fridge. 

So how long do you let it marinate?  It depends on the size of the fish, but a couple of hours will do it.  You'll notice a whitening of the fish as it "cooks," or in the case of already-white fish, an opaqueness will develop.

Do not let it sit for too long, however, because it is possible to overcook it, which renders it tough and chewy, just like if you used too much heat.

Serve it up!

Ceviche2The easiest method is to simply serve it in a bowl.  If you want to be authentic, toss in a handful of popped popcorn.   But ceviche also makes great tacos:  fill a corn taco shell with a little shredded cabbage or lettuce, sliced avocado, maybe some fresh corn, too?

Provide your version in the comments:  what's your favorite fish?  What ingredients do you use?  How do you like to serve it?