From as far back as my memory serves me my family has gathered around food for every celebration, holiday, and event. Having too many people crammed into a room to share a delicious meal prepared by my mother, makes up some of the best memories I share with the people who matter most. She had a way of making enough food to feed a small army, with only a four burner stove in a galley style kitchen. Whether it was Thanksgiving, Christmas, or a simple family BBQ you could count on a buffet of delicacies, each one tastier than the last. Those who know me know that nothing matters more to me than family, and friends. Sitting at the dinner table and sharing a meal with my wife Kristin, and our sons, Tommy, and Sam, or having friends join us for a celebration brings back those memories. My goal for this blog is to share with you the sense of peace that comes from sharing a meal with the ones you love.
My family is generally low maintenance when it comes to what they will eat. They each have favorites that seem to change without warning. My oldest, Tommy’s, favorite meal can fluctuate between osso bucco, and a Philly cheesesteak. Sam, my youngest, likes a good lobster roll, but can be just as satisfied with a slice of pizza, and as for my lovely wife Kristin, she is my biggest fan. Whether I put together a quick chicken parm, or smoke a beef tenderloin, she, better than the rest of the family, has mastered the art of truly taking time, and experiencing the flavors of any meal I serve. I, on the other hand, am my own worst critic. Even if the entire family raves about a meal I can always find a flaw if how it tastes, or how I could have prepared it better. A meatball dish that my boys devour in minutes just doesn’t meet my criterion for having the level of moisture or seasoning I was looking for. A chicken marsala that my wife says is restaurant quality is missing something that I just can’t put my finger on, and is never pounded thin enough no matter how thin it is. We as a family are the opposite of Burger King where special orders don’t upset them. At the Vergis house you will be eating what is served. There will be no special meals made because you don’t like fish, or you are not in the mood for chicken again. Don’t get me wrong I have a 14 and a 17 year old son in my house, and neither of them are ever not hungry. As my mother would say “if I put sauce on it they will eat it”.
Recently I have been in a dinner rut, making the same meals on what seems like an endless loop for months. My family would never complain about the home made pizza, smoked brisket, lasagna, Philly cheese steaks, or any of the other dozen or so meals that make up what I will call the Vergis Covid menu, but it all gets boring at some point. With that in mind, as well as eating healthy at least sometimes I have been looking to add some new items to the menu, and what’s healthier than fish? That created other challenges, such as what type of fish, and more importantly how, and where to get fresh quality fish. The first decision was easy: salmon is one of my wife’s favorite meals. More often than not if we are out to dinner she struggles between the salmon dish and another entrée on the menu. The issue of where to get quality fresh salmon was a little more difficult. When we lived in Huntington on Long Island we had a number of fish markets to choose from. One that stands out is definitely Fort Hill Seafood on main street, or in a pinch Jeff’s Seafood on New York Ave in Halesite. Either of these markets always had a wide selection of fresh offerings. Here in Maryland the choices aren’t as plentiful, at least not near our home in Ellicott City. When my office was in Bowie my daily commute took me past a great market right in the middle of Crain Highway in Crofton. The Crab Shack, as it’s called, always had an abundance of fresh raw seafood ranging from the Maryland staple Blue Claw Crabs to Mahi mahi, as well as a delicious menu of cooked selections. The folks manning the counter were always very helpful, and definitely knew their way around a fish market. Now that my office is in Annapolis, and since I haven’t been to that office in over 14 months, getting fresh Salmon was going to take a bit more effort.
To my surprise, the last place I would have thought to look had a fresh quality filet of salmon available. We have shopped at Costco for any number of produce, meat, dairy, and canned goods, but the idea of getting fresh seafood from a big box store never came to mind. While looking for a 12 – 16 pound brisket to throw in the smoker (look for an upcoming post), I came across fresh-not-frozen salmon. I talked to a good friend who advised that he has cooked Costco salmon and has always been very happy with it, so Costco it was. Now only how to cook it and what to serve with it were remaining challenges. Once again being inspired by Gordan Ramsey, I decided to go with risotto and peas as my sides. On any of Ramsey’s shows he is sure to be yelling at someone about mushy risotto, but despite that and the fact that I hadn’t made risotto in years,
I was all in. I am not the biggest salmon fan, but I have to say the combination of salmon, risotto, peas, and lemon butter sauce was awesome. The salmon was not overwhelmed by the taste of lemon like so often happens, the risotto was creamy, soft, and not mushy, and the peas, although not a family favorite, blended in perfectly. I even took the time to plate the dish as if I were on one of Ramsey’s shows (well at least my wife’s plate).
I am not a person who takes pictures of his meals at restaurants, or at home for that case, but you can almost taste the picture my wife took of this meal.
3 lbs of fresh salmon
3 large lemons
1 tbsp of Olive Oil
4 tbsp of butter
Salt/Pepper/Garlic Powder to taste
*Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees
*Cut Salmon into 2 inch wide filets (about 8 ounces)
*Season liberally on the skin, and flesh sides of each filet with salt, pepper, and powdered garlic
*Bring your sauté pan with olive oil to temp over medium high heat ( I actually used a cast iron pan)
*Carefully place the filets skin side up into the hot oil being careful not to splash the oil.
*Once filets are in the pan let cook for 4 -5 minutes. You will see the color of the salmon slowly change to a lighter pink as the cook permeates the filet. Be sure not to allow the pan to get too hot as it will scorch the filet. Once the cook has spread to a little more than a third of the way across the filet it is time to flip. Be careful as to not break the filet. Now with the skin side down squeeze the juice of half a lemon over the filet, and cook until entire filet is a light pink.
*Once pink throughout remove from the pan, and place in casserole dish
*In a separate pan melt butter, but do not brown, add chopped parsley, and the juice of 1 lemon to the melted butter.
*With all filets in the casserole dish pore melted butter, lemon, and parsley mix over all filets making sure to cover each completely.
*Place casserole dish in pre-heated oven for 5 – 10 minutes.
*Serve over risotto.
1 cup Arborio Rice
1/2 Yellow onion
3 cloves of fresh garlic (chopped)
2 cups low sodium chicken stock
2 tbsp of olive oil
1 cup white wine
2 tbsp lemon juice
3 tbsp grated parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
*Heat oil in heavy bottomed sauce pan
*Add onion, and garlic and cook until soft (about 5 minutes)
*Add rice, and stir frequently for 5 minutes until all of the rice has a shine from the oil
*Pour in 1 1/2 cups of chicken broth and bring to a boil.
*Reduce heat to a simmer, and stir, stir, stir. The trick to risotto is stirring! The moment you stop stirring it will burn to the bottom of the pot. As you stir the chicken broth will be absorbed by the rice, as it begins to get thick, and somewhat dry that is your que to add more broth, and the wine. Again keep stirring. You are looking for a moist but not runny consistency in your risotto, and the rice itself should be soft, but not mushy. My recipe calls for 2 cups of broth, but it is best to have more on hand in case you need it. In a pinch water will do in place of broth. Once the the risotto is almost at the moisture level you like it is time to add the parmesan cheese, and lemon juice. The cheese will thicken your risotto so don’t be afraid to add a touch more broth.
“My bologna has a first name its O-s-c-a-r, my bologna has a second name its M-a-y-e-r. Oh I love to eat it every day, and if you ask me why i’ll sayyyyy, cause Oscar Mayer has a way with b-o-l-o-g-n-a!!!” I can still sing that commercial even though I haven’t seen it in years. I loved bologna as a kid, whether my mom put in on Wonder Bread with some Gulden’s mustard, or I just grabbed it out of that signature Oscar Mayer container and rolled it up I couldn’t get enough of it. It was my families go to cold cut, we didn’t look for Boars Head brand back then. I cant even remember going to the deli counter, we found our cold cuts in the refrigerator section at Pathmark next to the bacon. Somewhere as we get older, our tastes change, or at least I know mine has. I can’t remember the last time I had bologna. Instead of that simple pleasure that was always in our fridge growing up, my family will take the extra effort to order cold cuts from a specific store just because they carry Boars Head. Where I was once excited to receive a bologna and mustard on wonder bread masterpiece from my mom, my tastes now prefer a sandwich laden with one of Boars Head’s specialty cuts like their pastrami or buffalo turkey. Wonder Bread has been replaced by selections like Martins Potato Bread, or a fresh baked roll from the nearby grocery. Instead of Gulden’s spicy brown mustard I reach for Dukes mayonnaise to add the finishing touches to the epicurean delights I am creating.
My boys were no different when they were toddlers; we, like most parents, leaned on foods like chicken nuggets, and hotdogs to bridge the gap from jarred baby foods to real food. It was easier than fighting with them every night at dinner, and the empty plates let us all know they enjoyed each meal. Don’t get me wrong, my two teenagers still love a good Dino Nugget, and favorites like pizza and Chick-fil-a are still met with smiles, but if asked what they would like for dinner the responses I receive are sure signs that I am raising young men with evolved tastes. Over the past year I have had much more time at home to think about meal planning, and to offer my family a growing assortment of meals. Instead of getting home around 6pm and putting together dinner from whatever’s in the fridge, I now look forward to each day’s family meal, and since we are having all of our groceries delivered, I need to plan days in advance to be sure I have the right ingredients. New family favorites like smoked brisket, ribs and pork shoulder have taken the place of eating out. We, like others, relied on takeout far too often before Covid. Don’t get me wrong, I love going out to eat as much, if not more than the next person. Working in sales going out to lunch was part of almost every day, but our new reality calls for new norms. Before Covid, we had gotten to a point that our busy lives had us eating take out at least twice a week for dinner if not more. Now I look forward to serving my family meals that are healthier, and I think far tastier. One meal that was an instant winner was Osso Bucco. To be honest, I can’t remember ever having Osso Bucco before making it for my family. I knew what it was, I had even prepared it while working in restaurants, but I had never sat down for a plate of it. Oh what I was missing! This dish is so filled with flavor that I am almost drooling as I type this. Served over mashed potatoes, this meal will not disappoint.
- 6 (1- to 1 1/2-inch-thick) pieces of beef or lamb shank
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more if needed
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 1 large yellow onion, chopped small
- 3 medium carrots, chopped small
- 2 celery rib, chopped small
- 3 medium cloves garlic, minced
- 1 cup (235ml) dry white wine
- 1 cup low-sodium chicken stock
- 1 -28-ounce can peeled whole tomatoes, crushed by hand
- 3 fresh thyme sprigs
- 1 bay leaf
- Preheat oven to 325°F. Season shanks all over with salt and pepper.
- In a large Dutch oven heat olive oil over medium-high heat until shimmering. Working in batches, lightly dredge shanks all over in flour, shaking off excess, and add to Dutch oven. Cook shanks, turning occasionally, until lightly browned on both sides, about 4 minutes per side; lower heat as necessary at any point to prevent scorching. Transfer browned shanks to a platter and repeat with remaining shanks; add more oil to Dutch oven at any point if it becomes too dry.
- Add butter to Dutch oven, along with onion, carrot, celery, and garlic. Cook, stirring, over medium-high heat until vegetables are softened and just starting to turn a light golden color, about 6 minutes.
- Add wine, stock, and tomatoes to Dutch oven, along with veal shanks and any accumulated juices. Try to arrange the shanks in as even a layer as possible (a little overlap is okay to make them fit). The liquid should nearly but not totally cover the shanks; if it doesn’t, add more stock or water until it does. Add thyme and bay leaf. Bring to a simmer.
- Continue cooking until they are fork-tender, about 1 hour longer. Evaporation and reduction are good, but the gravy is part of what makes this dish extraordinary so feel free to add more stock if needed.
- Carefully transfer shanks to a platter. (Using a spatula and tongs together can help prevent them from falling apart.) Using a spoon, carefully scrape off any excess fat on surface of braising juices. The liquid should be saucy and thick; you can adjust the consistency by adding either water or stock to thin the sauce, or simmering it on the stovetop until more fully reduced. Discard thyme and bay leaf and season with salt and pepper if necessary.
- Serve shanks on plates, spooning braising sauce on top of each shank. Make sure to offer small spoons for scooping out marrow from bones. Marrow doesn’t look great, but it tastes amazing.
Any other year today would be the day that my family would make the pilgrimage back to New York. We would be looking forward to spending time with friends and family that we hadn’t seen since the summer, and making plans for our annual train ride into the city to see the Rockefeller Center tree and the decorated windows at Macy’s and Saks Fifth Avenue. Our family, along with my sister and her family, have made that trip several times over the years, and it has become a highlight of our holiday season. Joining the tens of thousands of other families trying to catch a glimpse of the city so nice they named it twice sounds like a nightmare to most, but there is just something about the vibe in Times Square at Christmas time that brings us back. Enjoying a hot pretzel, or more accurately a warm pretzel at best from a street corner cart while walking around the city with the smell of chestnuts literally roasting on an open fire filling the air just can’t be beat. After a day of sight seeing and people watching, we had the daunting task of finding some place that had room for eight of us for dinner. This usually included walking for what seemed like forever. Last year we made the trip to China Town to one of my favorite places in the city, Wo Hops. Wo Hops is a no frills spot where you drink soda from the can, and can share any of their 250 menu items family style. Wo Hops has been a 24 hour treat since the 70s. As is often the case there was line down the street when we arrived, but the gods were shining on our party of 8, and a table just our size opened up quickly.
This year, as with many other facets of our lives, our annual pilgrimage has been derailed. No trip to see family and friends, and no train ride to the city. As we watched Home Alone 2 Lost in New York (the original Home Alone is my favorite) we realized just how much we were going to miss our yearly trip. We found ourselves pointing out places that Kevin McAllister, the main character from the film, was visiting that we have visited. 2020 has made me realize just how much all of the things that we have done with little if any thought of how special they were. Going to New York was always a given. It was just a short car ride that we have taken several times a year since moving to Maryland over 16 years ago. Seeing the tree at Rockefeller Center was a part of the holidays that just happened.
This year we have started new holiday traditions. As a family (and that’s the best part) we baked, and decorated over twenty dozen assorted Christmas cookies. Family favorites that included Ginger Bread cookies, Sugar cookies, Peanut Butter Thumb Print cookies with a Hershey’s kiss center, and two types of Chocolate Chip cookies. We mixed, rolled, cut and iced these treats to share with as many families as we possibly could. Sitting around our dinning room table together made me realize that as much as I miss spending time with friends and family, spending time with my amazing wife and my two boys makes me a very lucky man. Each of us added our own special touch to the decorating, including special boxes wrapped in ribbon made by my wife for delivery. We all enjoyed nightly trips to view Christmas lights on our way to drop off our treats. Nightly drives to see Christmas lights has been an annual tradition for us, but this year my wife found a way to kick it up a notch. She may regret letting me get my hands on it, but she found the Official Carpool Karaoke Microphone. The microphone plays through whatever FM station you pick, and you can sync it to your phone to play songs through that station as well, allowing you to sing along to all of your holiday favorites. We all took great delight in dropping off cookies on our friends doorstep, and then serenading them when they came outside. My personal favorite is Dominic the Donkey. At each house entire families would soon gather on their doorsteps to join in the fun. This simple silly gesture brightened many a night. I look forward to next year when we can enjoy the holidays with family again, but I look forward to baking cookies with my family, sharing them with friends, and sharing my gift for music. Wishing you a Happy New Year!
When the weather turns colder and the trees turn bare, there is nothing better than a warm meal to chase away the chill. If you want to see a smile on my face give me a delicious hot cup of soup after a day of raking leaves, or any other outdoor activity for that matter, the hotter the soup the better. Some may say a mug of hot chocolate or tea is the ticket to chase away the chill, but for me a mug full of hot, salty goodness is a game changer. From the first sip to the last gulp, drinking in a flavorful helping of soup transports me back under a blanket on the couch at my mom’s house. In today’s new normal I long for those simple moments sitting on my family’s couch watching TV with my mom. She never cared what was on, she just liked having the people she loved around. I can remember as a newly wed going over to her house weekly to watch the Sopranos, and of course to do laundry with my new bride, Kristin. I don’t think she even really enjoyed the Sopranos, which was even more obvious when she fell asleep during the show on more than one occasion, but she was always very happy to see us, and there was always a delicious meal waiting for us when we arrived. In the colder months, that often meant mom’s chicken noodle soup. She would cook for the better part of an afternoon getting ready for us. Starting with slowly simmering multiple chickens to make stock, she would start from scratch. When I was younger I was always amazed when she didn’t use those chickens for the soup. She would always use them for something else like chicken salad that she would add seasoning to, but in her words “all the flavor was in the broth”. She would roast two more chickens to add to that delicious broth along with healthy portions of celery, and onions. My mothers version of this traditional meal was always more noodles than broth. On numerous occasions you could stand a spoon up in the pot there were so many noodles. I have never been able to do my moms chicken noodle justice. I just can’t get that noodle to broth ratio quite right.
The Maryland Vergis crew has replaced Chicken noodle with Gumbo. I don’t remember when, or how it happened, but the go to “soup” in my house now has shrimp, chicken, and kielbasa in it. There are still healthy portions of celery, and onion, but the broth now includes cayenne pepper, and tabasco. Mind you, never too much heat, but just enough to remind you what you are eating. I must admit that I don’t make my own stock, and to be even more honest, I buy already cooked rotisserie chickens for my gumbo. It is still a full afternoon of prep, and cooking, but not quite as long as my mom took on her soup. When I make Gumbo I make a lot of Gumbo. I always make at least two dinners, and multiple lunches worth for my family, and usually a few other folks.
2 Rotisserie chickens pulled and chopped
3 lbs peeled and deviened shrimp
2 kielbasas sliced
4 green peppers chopped
2 medium onions chopped
4 chopped garlic cloves fine chopped
6 celery stalks chopped
4 32oz containers of chicken stock (low salt)
2 28oz cans crushed tomatoes
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp salt
1 tsp file powder
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1/4 cup flour
Tabasco to taste
In a large pot add onions, celery, and peppers to heated vegetable oil, and cook until tender continuously stir approximately 5 minutes. Add garlic and continue stirring for 5 more minutes.
Add salt, pepper, cayenne pepper, file powder, and thyme to vegetable mix. Be sure to mix spices in well.
Add chicken stock, tabasco, kielbasa, chicken, and crushed tomato’s, and simmer for 20 minutes until hot.
Add cleaned shrimp, and stir until shrimp are fully cooked.
In a small sauté pan over medium heat add flour and continuously stir until flour turns light brown, and gives off a nutty aroma.
Add browned flour to Gumbo utilizing a sifter to avoid any lumps ending up in the Gumbo. Stir until Gumbo thickens
Serve over rice.
Growing up on Long Island you are never more than a short car ride from some type of water. From the local beaches that can be found in almost every town along the Long Island coast, or state parks like Jones Beach, and Fire Island to the white sand beaches of the world famous Hamptons, summers on Long Island are often spent at the beach. My family took this to the extreme every year. As soon as the weather turned warm enough my mother would load us up into the family station wagon and head to Fleets Cove, a small town beach in our home town of Huntington. Fleets, as we would some times call it, was a small strip of sand that had everything we needed: sun, sand, and water. That is where my sister and I learned to swim, and we were signed up for swimming lessons every summer. Over multiple three week sessions that we would take all summer, we would arrive in the early morning hours, attend our lessons, and then stay until late afternoon. My mother loved our time at the beach. By early June she already sported a dark brown tan. Over the years she became a fixture at Fleets cove. We sat in the same area: close, but not too close to the water, with the same friends every year. When the tides cooperated, and low tide coincided with our time at the beach we spent our non-swim lesson hours clamming. We didn’t clam with any types of shovels or rakes. Instead we used our toes, which would leave them ravaged by the end of the summer. We would walk out until we were a little more than waste deep, and start digging. By scraping the top inch or two of sand, shells, and rocks off the surface of the bay bottom, we would search for a motherload of clams in every size. Over the years my mother taught anyone the art of clamming who asked what we were doing. Most of the time it was a kid who would ask, but there were more than a few moms who joined in as well. On a good day, and most of them were good days, we would take three to four dozen clams home with us. It wasn’t uncommon for us to have so many clams at the end of the day that we would either sell, or more often give away some of our daily catch. My mother would turn the clams we brought home into some of my favorite summer time meals. Treats like baked stuffed clams (without clams for my cousin, who didn’t like them), spaghetti with clam sauce, and clam chowder graced our summer dinner table, and were our family’s contribution to many barbecues. As we got older and had kids of our own, my mother taught her grand children how to clam, and introduced them all to her specialties. My sister’s children were the ones who named her Grandma Beach. Some of the happiest, and proudest times in my mom’s life were spent sitting in her beach chair watching her grandchildren enjoy her happy place.
I grew up on my mom’s Manhattan clam chowder (the red one), a delicious blend of clams, vegetables, and crushed tomatoes that created a broth that I would drink by the glass if she would have let me. Now my boys are fans of New England clam chowder (the white one), a creamy blend of clams, potatoes, and, if done right, bacon. During our vacations to Maine and Massachusetts they look for it on every menu. My youngest son recently requested that I make a batch of chowder for dinner. I have made chowder a number of times before while working in restaurants on Long Island, but it has been over 25 years, and back then I was making huge batches to feed a restaurant full of customers on a busy weekend. I was definitely going to have to scale down my efforts. The recipe I put together is below, please let me know what you think.
- 4 bacon strips
- 2 celery ribs, chopped
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 4 small potatoes, peeled and cubed
- 1 cup water
- 1/4 teaspoon white pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
- 2 cups half-and-half
- 2 cans (6-1/2 ounces each) chopped clams, undrained
- In a large pot cook bacon over medium heat until crisp. Once crisp take out of pot, and put on paper towel. Leave bacon grease in pot.
- Saute celery and onion in the drippings until onions are soft.
- Add garlic and cook until lightly brown.
- Stir in the potatoes, water, pepper and thyme. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer, uncovered, until potatoes are tender.
- Add cooked bacon back to pot.
- Gradually stir 1 cup of the half and half into the soup. Bring to a boil and stir until thickened, 1-2 minutes.
- Stir in clams and remaining half-and-half; heat through (do not boil).
- Serve with oyster crackers
Fall has hit in Maryland, and I couldn’t be happier. The hot, sticky days of summer have come to an end, and the crisp, cool days of autumn have taken over. The days are getting shorter, and my spirits are soaring. This time of year has always been my favorite season. Baseball is moving into the playoffs (Go Yankees!!!!), and football is just starting (Go Steelers!!!). School is back in session kind of, and as we roll into October the holidays are right around the corner. The chill in the air has me craving the foods that go with the season. Meals like chicken pot pie that was covered in my last post, hearty soups like New England clam chowder, and chili, which have posts to come. These dinners just seem perfect compliments to the beautiful sunlight of an early fall evening. The smells of the changing leaves and the last lawn mowing of the season simply make me happy. As a kid I would spend the last few hours of daylight playing whatever sport I could find kids to play, ranging from football and kickball to street hockey. I would play until my mother would go to the back step and yell my name to let me know it was dinner time. She had a voice that could be heard across the entire neighborhood! Everyone within a quarter mile radius knew it was dinner time at the Vergis household. After hours of intense competition I rode my bike home starving and ready to eat. My mom never disappointed, whether it was fried breaded pork chops, stuffed shells, home made chicken noodle soup and sandwiches, or my favorite, spaghetti with meatballs and sausage, the house always smelled incredible. My mother was a great cook, and always served amazing meals, but she was never much for baking. She baked the occasional cheese cake or Bundt cake, and cookies around the holidays, but not much else. I never was much of a baker either, as being patient while my creation sat in the oven for what felt like an eternity just didn’t seem enjoyable to me. That has changed as I have gotten older, and the smells that come from baking are now well worth the wait. I would say that I bake holiday cookies, but to be honest I bake cookies when ever I feel like having fresh cookies. Recently I have started expanding my repertoire to include baked goods like the peach cobbler that I talked about in a previous post, and now apple crumb cake. Like the peaches for my peach cobbler, the Vergis crew took a road trip to pick our own apples. This time we headed to Amish Country just north of the Pennsylvania line. It took us about an hour and a half on back roads to get there, but the beautiful scenery along the way was worth every minute. It seemed like the corn fields would never end.
My wife, Kristin“, found a small farm by the name of Susquehanna Orchards. This family-owned, 100 year old, 300 acre farm offers pick your own apples, pumpkins, and peaches in season, as well as farm fresh produce for sale. We made our way through rows of trees filled with golden, and red delicious apples. It didn’t take long for us to fill a half bushel basket. As we took our time driving home along the country roads of southern PA and northern MD, we discussed what we would be making from our harvest. By the time we got home it was decided that an apple crumb cake would be that night’s dessert. And that night’s dessert quickly became a family favorite. Served warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, and, of course, a tall glass of ice cold milk, we quickly made plans to use some more of our bounty of apples to make another round of cakes. That was just the beginning for the baking, and over the course of the next week I baked no fewer than six cakes that we shared with several of our friends. Below is the recipe for this delicious treat, please make sure to include the brown sugar and vanilla drizzle to top your cakes as it takes this dessert over the top.
For the cake:
- 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 cup + 2 Tablespoons of milk
- 3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1/4 cup + 2 teaspoons vegetable or canola oil
- 1 large egg
- 3 to 4 medium apples washed, peeled, cored and sliced thin (I used golden delicious)
- 2 Tablespoons granulated sugar
- 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1 Tablespoon apple cider vinegar
for the topping:
- 1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
- 1/3 cup granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter melted and cooled
- 1 and 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
Brown sugar drizzle:
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons water
- Grease and flour an 8″ round springform pan (or cake pan). Set aside.
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together both sugars, cinnamon, salt and flour. Add melted butter and fluff with fork until mixtures creates crumbs. Set aside.
- In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, baking soda and salt. In a medium bowl, mix together milk, vanilla, oil and egg. Whisk until smooth.
- Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir with a wooden spoon. Do not over mix. A few lumps in the batter are okay.
- Pour the cake batter into the prepared pan. It will seem like you don’t have enough, but with the addition of the apples, and crumble it will be perfect.
- In a medium bowl, toss together apple slices with two tablespoons of sugar, 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon and the apple cider vinegar. Don’t be shy with the sugar, or cinnamon!!
- Arrange apple slices over the batter. It doesn’t have to be pretty just make sure that you cover all of the batter. A thick layer adds to the texture of the finished product.
- Sprinkle crumb topping over the apples covering completely.
- Bake the cake for 30 to 35 minutes or until the topping is golden brown. If the visible edges of the cake top start to brown the cake is ready,
- Let cool completely in the pan.
- Drizzle brown sugar glaze over top of cake. Be sure to drizzle evenly.
- Transfer onto a serving plate or stand. Slice and serve.
- Keep in a covered container for up to 4 days.
The Vergis family is a big fan of cooking shows. One of our favorites is Somebody Feed Phil on Netflix, starring the creator of Everybody Loves Raymond, Phil Rosenthal. With an amazing zest for life Phil travels the world trying the local specialties with some of the best chefs in the world. Another of our go-to shows is The Great British Bake Off. A group of amateur bakers are put through a series of competitions ranging from preparing biscuit cookies to baking and decorating elaborate three tiered cakes. Another show, a short mini series called Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat entertained and educated the whole family. My boys were glued to the TV as the host Samin Nosrat explains why salt, fat, acid, and heat are the cornerstones of every great meal. The next one is not a TV show, but the movie Chef starring Jon Favreau as a temperamental chef who finds himself out of a job, and running a food truck with his son, and friend played by John Leguizamo is a family favorite that we have watched together several times. Recently we have gotten hooked on season 10 of MasterChef. We have watched Gordon Ramsey in a number of his shows, but the cast of amateur chefs in season 10 for some reason got us to binge watch the season in just a few weeks. One of the episodes that got my cooking juices going was based around creating an entire meal in a single cast iron pan in 60 minutes. Many of the chefs played it safe cooking a filet mignon with some sort of vegetable, as well as a potato serving. They all looked delicious, but it was when Gordan Ramsey bragged that he only needed 30 minutes to complete the challenge that things got exciting. When time was up Ramsey had prepared what looked like an amazing chicken pot pie. I say looked like because I have to take the other judges’ words for the taste.
I grew up on frozen chicken pot pie TV dinners that resembled what Ramsey prepared one only in the slightest. The crust was always a bit soggy, and the filling was close to lava hot comprised of a small handful of peas, and carrots, and even less actual chicken. The sauce had a consistency closer to elmers glue than to the gravy it was meant to. After watching the episode I quickly set out to see if I could replicate what Ramsey had just put together. I wasn’t concerned with doing it in 30 minutes, but I did want it to be something my entire family would love. I took a few shortcuts using frozen pearl onions, and peas and carrots, an already prepared rotisserie chicken, and Pillsbury pop and fresh biscuits for the topping, but the end result tasted as if it was all from scratch. Try the recipe below, and let me know if your family enjoys it as much as mine.
Chicken Pot Pie Recipe
1 Rotisserie Chicken
1 10oz Bag frozen peas
1 10oz Bag Frozen carrots
1 14oz Bag frozen pearl onions
2 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tablespoon fresh sage
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2/3 cup half and half
1 3/4 cups chicken broth
1 10oz tube of ready made biscuits ( I used Pillsbury)
- Step 1 Preheat oven to 425 degrees F (220 degrees C.)
- Step 2 Remove all meat from rotisserie chicken, and chop into bite size pieces.
- Step 3 In a cast iron pan over medium heat, cook onions in butter until softened. Add carrots, peas, and stir in flour, salt, pepper, and sage.
- Step 4 Add chopped chicken, and slowly stir in chicken broth and half and half. Simmer over medium-low heat until thick.
- Step 5 Place ready made biscuits on top of chicken mixture covering as much of the surface as possible.
- Step 5 Bake in the preheated oven for 30 to 35 minutes, or until pastry is golden brown and filling is bubbly. Cool for 10 minutes before serving.
As summer comes to an end, and we look forward to the crisp air of fall and all of the flavors that come with the season, my family likes to take advantage of the cooler temps to get out and about and enjoy what our area has to offer. Maryland summers can be oppressively hot and humid causing us to keep our time spent outside in the heat to a minimum. So as soon as the temperature starts to fall, we emerge from our air conditioned lair and head out to local farms, orchards, and farmers markets. Covid-19 has made me appreciate these trips in a whole new way. My boys are growing up so quickly, and being able to share times together like this is what I hope they remember as they move through their lives. One of our favorite spots is Larriland Farm in Woodbine, MD. This farm half way between Baltimore, and Frederick, Md offers multiple seasons of pick your own fruit. Whether its wild flowers, blue berries, raspberries, peaches, apples, or pumpkins you and your family can head out to the field, or orchard, and pick straight from the source. We have gone to Larriland several times in the past, but this August we were there for peaches. Sweet, delectable peaches. It only took us about a half an hour to pick way too many peaches, but we had a row of peach trees all to ourselves, allowing my wife to take an abundance of family pictures. Each tree was bursting with fruit for the picking. We filled one medium container, I believe it was a peck of peaches, and one small pint sized container. Once back to the car, we realized that we had picked with our eyes, and not with our stomachs. For under $30 we had enough peaches to last us months. It didn’t take long for us all to realize we had entered the Cobbler Zone. If we didn’t want to let these sweet round balls of goodness go to waste, I had more than one cobbler in my future. That afternoon was spent blanching, peeling, slicing, flavoring, and baking three cobblers. Having never made a cobbler before, I did some research and took parts of several recipes to put together what turned out to be a pretty good first set of cobblers, served, of course, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream! Like Chicken Pallooza from my previous post, cobbler was delivered to a number of friends, and neighbors. Apparently the Vergis family is on a mission to fatten up Maryland.
4lbs Fresh Peaches
1/4 cup white sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp fresh lemon juice
2 tsp cornstarch
1 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup white sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
6 Tbs unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1/4 cup boiling water
3 Tbs white sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
Step #1. Preheat oven to 425
Step#2. Bring 3 qts of water to boil in large pot. On bottom of each peach cut a small x to aid in peeling. Place peaches in boiling water for 2 – 3 minutes. Remove peaches, and place them in ice bath.
Step#3. Peel peaches using earlier cut x to help with peeling. Cut peaches in half removing the pit. Slice peaches approximately 1/8 of inch in thickness. Don’t worry about being exact you just want to avoid uneven slices so that peaches all cook evenly.
Step#4. In a large bowl combine peaches, 1/4 cup of white sugar, 1/4 cup of brown sugar, 1/4 tsp of cinnamon, nutmeg, lemon juice, and cornstarch. Make sure mixture coats all peaches evenly. Pour mixture into 2 qt baking dish, and bake in preheated oven for 10 minutes.
Step#5. In a separate bowl combine flour, 1/4 cup white sugar, 1/4 cup of brown sugar, baking powder, and salt. Blend in Butter until mixture is like a damp sand. Add water, and combine.
Step#6. Remove peaches from oven, and using a metal teaspoon to scoop the flour mixture drop spoon fulls on top of now hot peaches making sure to distribute mixture evenly. Sprinkle entire cobbler with sugar, and cinnamon topping mix. Place in oven and bake until golden brown. Should take about a half an hour.
Serve hot for best results, and of course with a scoop of vanilla ice cream!!!!
Maine has become one of my family’s favorite vacation spots. We have made the trek from our home in Maryland to towns like Kennebunkport, Wells, Camden, Port Clyde, Boothbay, and Southport several times over the past ten years usually stopping on Long Island to visit family along the way (Long Island will be a few posts of its own). Along with the beautiful scenery, amazing wildlife, and welcoming people, Maine has an amazing list of local food specialties to offer. Everybody knows about the world famous delicious lobster roll sandwich with mayonnaise or butter (butter makes everything better) that can be found at any number of road side stands like Red’s Eats in Wiscasset. From open to close Red’s has a healthy sized line that is always worth the wait. For those willing to take a road trip for amazing meals, specialties can be found in every small town along the Maine coast. I am going to start from my sons favorite part of the meal: dessert. Offerings from over 200 Maine dairies make ice cream a popular home grown treat in Maine. From fresh blueberry ice cream at Camden Cone in Camden, to made to order waffle cones at WANNAWAF in BoothBay Harbor, to one of the biggest selections of flavors I have ever had the pleasure of sampling at Round Top Dairy in Damariscotta, ice cream can be part of every meal. As if that wasn’t enough, Maine still has more to tempt your sweet tooth. In the center of Boothbay Harbor, you will find a sugar lover’s dream in Wicked Whoopies, home of over twenty different varieties of those sinfully sweet treats called whoopie pies. Left unchecked, both of my sons would have slipped into a sugar coma trying all the different flavors. Wicked Whoopies will also ship their heavenly cream filled dreams home to you. Boothbay is one of our favorite towns to spend time in. We have spent several afternoons strolling down its quaint streets, stopping by its souvenir shops, and sampling taffy too. Somewhat of a touristy little town Boothbay has more than enough shopping, sightseeing, and food choices to please even the pickiest of people. Thankfully, picky is something that my family is not. Be it sitting on the deck enjoying New England clam chowder and steamed Lobsters at the Boothbay Lobster Wharf, or taking in the warm ambiance of the Thistle Inn while being spoiled by the Lazy Lobster, a butter poached offering served over risotto, my crew is right at home.
One restaurant that we never miss on our trips to Maine offers the best of all of these flavors. Mabel’s Lobster Claw in Kennebunkport has something for everyone. Named by Martha Stewart as one of her favorite restaurants there is always a short wait at Mabel’s, parking can be a challenge, and I almost always avoid waits, but for Mabel’s, I will make an exception. Lucky diners can choose from dishes ranging from fried oysters and steamed lobsters of all sizes, to my all time favorite meal the Lobster Savannah. I can’t decide if the star of this dish is the two pound lobster, the fresh shrimp and scallops it is stuffed with, or the Newburg sauce with Gruyere that envelopes the entire dish. One can choose a one and a half pound lobster, but it’s a once a year treat for us, so why skimp! Every bite of this dish is outstanding. Just typing this I want to plan our next trip to Maine! If that isn’t enough to get Mabel’s on your bucket list, you can follow any of their offerings with a slice of homemade blueberry pie, and a scoop of vanilla ice cream, of course. Add a giant glass of ice cold milk, and then its time for a nap.