A Million Recipes and Nothing To Cook.

Savory Baked Quince stuffed with Lamb

Savory Baked Quince stuffed with Lamb

Planning a dinner party menu, for me, is like figuring out an outfit to wear for a special occasion; so many choices but nothing comes together. The (such-a-deal) taupe sheath with a metallic band is very cool but none of my shoes are right. And accessories? Don’t even go there. The Baked Quince stuffed with Ground Lamb and Currants is festive but I’m stumped about a side dish. And dessert? Forget about it.

Maybe you have similar issues, especially when you’re busier than ever stuffing goodwill towards all into a few short weeks. I’ve perused my Holiday Cookbook and have pieced together some soup-to-nuts festive dinners, including cocktails, that may ease some of your strain. (I do believe in potlucks. I do, I do, I do….)

Proposal #1: Super-Easy & Festive Menu

Appetizer: Gorgonzola Pear Dip  Notes: Stupid simple, but oh so good. Can be assembled in 5 minutes and made the night before; all but the addition of pears, which should be stirred in a couple of hours before serving. Serve with a sliced baguette or Rosemary-Raisin Crisps (or something similar) I’ve enjoyed from Trader Joe’s.

Roast Pork with Rosemary and Garlic

Roast Pork with Rosemary and Garlic

Main Course: Roast Pork with Rosemary and Garlic Notes: How can something so easy taste so heavenly? Five minutes to prep the roast and about 45 minutes to roast. Don’t overcook!

Pick your Side(s): Maple-Glazed Butternut Squash Notes: The only thing time-consuming is attacking the butternut squash. I prefer the slices but you could save time and use the pre-cut cubes.

Baked Apples stuffed with Orange-Scented Sweet Potatoes

Baked Apples stuffed with Orange-Scented Sweet Potatoes

Balsamic Red Cabbage Notes: Buying a bag of sliced red cabbage makes this recipe a cinch.

Baked Apple stuffed with Orange-Scented Sweet Potatoes Notes: OK. A tiny bit more involved, but they can be made well in advance to baking, and they are  nirvana with pork.

Sauteéd Chard and Currants: No recipe for this, it’s so easy. Simply remove greens from stems and sauté chopped stems in butter or olive oil with currants until almost tender. Stir in chopped leaves and season with salt and pepper. Using chard with red stems looks quite festive on the plate and the sweet currants are delish with the pork.

Yogurt and Fig Cake

Yogurt and Fig Cake

Dessert: Yogurt and Fig Cake Notes:  I love this cake and it’s the simplest scratch-made cake I’ve ever made. It may be made a couple of days in advance and freezes well. Substitute frozen or dried figs if you can’t find fresh. I’d go the distance and serve this topped with whipped cream infused with Grand Marnier.

Cocktail: Lucy’s Pig Punch Notes: This is a yummy whiskey and apple potent. But to keep thing really simple, serve a creamy Chardonnay with fruity notes, particularly apple, before and throughout the meal.

Proposal #2: A bit more involved, a bit more classy-sassy, but most of the prep work may (and should for survival) be done well in advance.

Sherried Shrimp Bisque

Sherried Shrimp Bisque

Appetizer: Sherried Shrimp Bisque Notes: I love serving appetizers in shot glasses! The bisque be made a couple of days in advance; it ages well.

Main Course: Flank Steak Florentine (header photo) Notes: Pretty  on a plate and may be rolled and prepped the evening prior to  cooking and serving. If you prefer your beef cooked medium or well-done, make this Standing Rib Roast instead. The sides listed below are compatible for both. Flank steak toughens the longer it cooks.

Pick your Side(s): Roasted Garlic Mashed Potato and Mushroom-Leek Casserole  Notes:  Can be made a day in advance. Fabulous with beef.

Portobella Mushrooms Caps stuffed with Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes Notes: Can be made 3-4 hours in advance. Tidy little package.

Pasta with Roasted Chestnuts, Bacon and Sage

Pasta with Roasted Chestnuts, Bacon and Sage

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Chanterelles and Bacon Notes: Omit the Chanterelle and Bacon Sauce if you’d prefer the dish less rich.

Pasta with Roasted Chestnuts, Bacon and Fried Sage Leaves Notes: Save time by purchasing roasted and peeled chestnuts.

Chocolate-Rum Mousse with Whipped Cream and Raspberries

Chocolate-Rum Mousse with Whipped Cream and Raspberries

Dessert: Chocolate-Rum Mousse with Whipped Cream and Raspberries or Ginger Molasses Bundt Cake with Lemon Curd Notes: The mousse can be made 24 hours in advance; the cake several days in advance.

Cocktail: I’d serve a classic Manhattan made with American rye whiskey, sweet vermouth and orange bitters–grated fresh nutmeg would lend a holiday note; and a solid Cabernet with dinner. 




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Goat Cheese Panna Cotta with Mulled Wine Poached Pears: Thanksgiving Day Warm-Up

Today’s Wednesday–8 days before Thanksgiving; 4 days before my kids, et al, come  to celebrate our early-bird feast. There’s several inches of white stuff on the ground, school’s out and some neighborhood kids just made a snowman. It’s leering at me from across the street. Wipe that silly grin off your face before I knock it off.

Pears beginning to poach in a fruity mulled wine.

Pears beginning to poach in a fruity mulled wine.

Oopsie! Debby Downer’s come to visit. Normally I’m delighted with the first stuff of the season. But memories of last winter…today’s temps below freezing …two feasts to prepare…a book demanding its 20 millionth proof…a house that needs cleaning…no assistant to assist…Really, Frosty, really? Can’t you wait until December?

My family assumes my spatula is a magic wand, perhaps yours’ does too; no short-cuts for this gal. Grinning mightily, I’m supposed to cherish this holiday; be an enthusiastic spoke on the wheel with the other smily-faced Thanksgiving Day guru bloggers, communally slavering over saucepan, over pen, over this one holiday that devotes itself to food. That should be me. But, yet, it’s not. This year I’m saying’– make it go away, please?

Today’s Friday--I’m better. The snow is glistening under Frosty’s affable smile. I’m excited the kids are coming over tomorrow. We feast, they leave, and then I regroup for Thanksgiving verité. Yesterday I cleaned the house, set the table, arranged flowers, did most of the shopping, trying to get as much done in advance as possible. I just made two of their favorite sides: Wild Rice, Sausage, Fennel Stuffing and the Roasted Garlic Mashed Potato-Shiitake Mushroom Casserole (tap the Holiday Ball icon for my Holiday Cookbook).

It’s essential making dishes 24 hours in advance as, folks, I’m in survival mode, and the savory panna cotta (not sweet, per typical panna cotta) dealie I’m launching to conclude tomorrow’s meal is a piece of work. I’ll make the Goat Cheese Panna Cotta and Poached Pears portion of the recipe tonight, the entirety to be completed an hour before dinner’s served. Salad and cheese courses are often served after the main, and this recipe takes care of that, plus the poached pear adds an element of sweet.


Peel pears, leaving skin enact.


Remove seeds and fibers with a melon baller.


Poach pears in seasoned wine under parchment.


With a neutrally flavored oil, oil ramekins.


Add goat cheese to just hot milk and cream.


Whisk goat cheese until incorporated into sauce and smooth.


Place pan in ice bath then whisk in gelatin (read notes on blooming gelatin). Whisk until completely incorporated and mixture is not gritty.


Pour mixture into oiled ramekins and refrigerate at least 6 hours and up to 24.


Make bacon-maple syrup and strain out bacon.


Panna Cotta perfection! Just the right amount of jiggle and creaminess while maintaining its shape.

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Today’s Saturday: When you read the following recipe (I dare you), you’re right to conclude that I’m a whacked-out masochist since I’ve kvetched ad nauseam about my work load. (I get it; nice problems and all that.) If you’ve read this far, perhaps you’re feeling my pain because holidays knock you broadside, too. This year my novel-to-be takes the rap.

Recipes are included in Simmer and Smoke; A Culinary Tale, and the following is a recipe I’ve made only once, and it will appear in the book. It needed a microscopic proof and that’s what I gave it. I’ll serve it tonight, but made a sample to photograph and taste.  The layers of texture and flavor incorporate into a shimmering, creamy, bacolicious dish; a real show-stopper and, in retrospect, worth the effort.

One last thing. Forget deep breathing mantras. Here’s my strategy for Thanksgiving Day Survival: Lucy’s Pig Punch. Yeowza!

Recipe: Goat Cheese Panna Cotta with Pears and Maple-Bacon Dressing


  • 4 firm-ripe Bosc pears
  • 4 cups fruity red wine*
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 2 vanilla beans
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cloves
  • Parchment paper to cover pear while poaching
  • 3 cups heavy cream (avoid ultra-pasterurized, if possible)
  • 1 cup goat milk
  • 8 ounces soft goat cheese, room temperature, coarsely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon dry tarragon
  • Two pinches of cayenne
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon powdered gelatin, bloomed** in 2 tablespoons warm water
  • 8 (1/2-3/4 cup)ramekins (molds), lightly oiled
  • 1 packed cup of 1/4-inch diced uncooked bacon
  • 1 cup maple syrup
  • Arugula, as needed, stems trimmed, washed and dried
  • Optional garnishes: Finely chopped parsley (for garnishing panna cotta) and raspberries.


  1. Peel pears with a vegetable peeler or paring knife and cut them, lengthwise, in half. Use a melon baller or spoon to dig out the core, and a small paring knife to remove the fibrous part of the core that extends to the stem, leaving the stem intact.
  2. Combine the wine, sugar, cinnamon sticks, vanilla beans and cloves in your largest, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Bring the mixture to a low simmer while stirring to dissolve sugar.
  3. Add pears to the saucepan. Cut a piece of parchment paper into a circle that will fit over the pears in the pan. Place the parchment round directly on the surface of the liquid and pears. This will keep the pears submerged in the liquid.
  4. Over low heat, poach pears for 20 to 30 minutes or until a knife is easily inserted into a pear. Turn pears over in the middle of simmer time to insure even poaching. Remove the pears from the heat and allow them to cool to room temperature in their liquid. Chill in the cooking liquid until cold, turning occasionally, at least 8 hours and up to 24.
  5. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, half-fill  an ice bath large enough to house the saucepan in which the panna cotta will simmer. Reserve.
  6. Gently heat the cream and goat milk in  saucepan. When just hot but not boiling, stir in the goat cheese and whisk until the mixture is smooth; stir in tarragon, cayenne and salt. Remove from heat and continue whisking in ice bath; whisking in the bloomed gelatin (see notes below) and continue whisking until completely incorporated.
  7. Pour into oiled molds. Chill in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours and up to 24 hours.
  8. Fry the bacon in a skillet until crisp; deglaze pan with 2 cups of water and the maple syrup and reduce until 1 cup, or so, remains; about 15 minutes. Strain out bacon (reserve for another use), return the syrup to a small saucepan and whisk over high heat for 3-4 minutes, until the syrup thickens. Allow to cool, whisking occasionally to make sure the fat does not separate. (If refrigerated at this point, the syrup will thicken further; bring to room temperature before using.)
  9. Unmold the panna cottas by running a knife along the edges of the ramekins and tapping onto 8 plates garnished with arugula. (If they don’t slide out of the mold, place briefly in a small hot water bath and try again.) Slice the pears and arrange around the panna cotta. Drizzle with the bacon syrup, garnish, if desired, and serve.

*A typical, 750mL bottle of wine is 3 cups; add an additional cup of water, if you don’t want to open another bottle. That’s what I did. A bit less of an intense red color, but lovely.

**Blooming gelatin is an important step to ensure a smooth texture. Sprinkle the powdered gelatin into water and stir to dissolve. Let sit for 3 to 5 minutes until congealed, then heat in the microwave about 45 seconds until liquified.

Time to make poached pears and panna cotta (advance prep required): 75 minutes

Time to make dressing and finish plates: 40 minutes

Number of servings (yield): 8

Copyright © Peggy Lampman’s dinnerFeed.


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Shredded Brussels Sprouts with Manchego, Marcona Almonds and Fried Shallots works double-time as a salad or appetizer

(Note the gold holiday ball in the right hand column of this blog. Perhaps some of my past holiday recipe blogs can be of assistance to your meal planning in the next couple of months.)

Last week was spent with three lady friends in Manhattan soaking in (breathless) as many museums, plays, Halloween revelry, and….of course—food!—as we could inhale without falling face forward prone.

There’s no city like New York, and last week’s visit was less costly and more entertaining for me than past trips; certainly more user-friendly than when I lived there. Shopping accommodations on the internet are one reason; Ubering and small-plate sharing could be other reasons. And the town’s more inviting and relaxing because it’s cleaner and safer than past decades have witnessed.


Use your sharpest knife to shave into thin slices; 1/16th of an inch.


Use a vegetable peeler to shave cheese; grate the bits that fall apart.


Fry shallots until crispy taking care not to burn.


Serve the dish as a salad or on crostini.

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We divided our stay between a midtown Airbnb (convenient to theatres and museums), and a charming boutique hotel downtown in Greenwich Village (The Marlton). Its cozy hotel bar, complete with crackling fire, was rife with late-night action. Plays we saw included last year’s Pulitzer Prize winning, Disgraced, and the wildly popular, wildly amusing, Kinky Boots and Book of Mormon.

We noshed on tender Beef Cheek Ravioli with Squab Liver and Truffles on Halloween at Babbo, dirt-cheap dumplings and sesame pancakes with duck at Venessa’s Dumplings (skirting Chinatown, close to the Tenement Museum on the lower east side). We shared and slurped our way through a variety of  ramen at Ippudo, accompanied by steamed buns, flash-fried octopus and mushrooms. We sampled from other eateries here and there –lobster rolls and Vietnamese sandwiches in Chelsea Market; even in the touristy Times Square jungle, all of the food was very good.

The following is a recipe similar to a Raw Shaved Brussels Sprouts Salad with Sheperd’s Basket Cheese and Marcona Almonds we shared at a Jean George‘s restaurant,  ABC Cocino. I couldn’t find their exact recipe and I don’t have access to the local cheese they used, but the cheese tasted like a Manchego, which I used in the recipe below.

You know brussels sprouts and all of its incarnations have “arrived” when you see them displayed, shaved, in cello pre-packs at your local Trader Joe’s. And you could save time by using these, but I prefer the bright taste of the freshest brussels you can locate, and the precise razor-thin cut that only your sharpest chef knife can wield.

If you enjoy flavors typical of Spain, this salad has your number; it’s to die for scrumptious and I’m finishing off last night’s leftovers as I write these words. A quick trot through shaved brussels sprouts cyber-land reveals a host of other preparations, some shavings paired with apples and a cider vinaigrette, others with truffle oil and Reggiano, for example.


Chelsea Market throbs, bursts at the seams, with gustatory pleasures.


Chelsea Market alley scene; dude needs a sandwich!


Andy's soup at MOMA.


Count on the Metropolitan Museum to walk off your lunch.


Scenes from Central Park; lunch at the Boathouse.


Make my boots a pair of sequined reds; size 7 1/2.


Pork buns at Ippudo.


Great lines on the High Line.


Pork Belly Banh Mi at Num Pang sandwich shop in Chelsea Market.


A gent decked out in Halloween regalia. He said he owned a Belgium beer bar around the corner.


Halloween street scene in the Village.


Only very dull people neglect to don a costume in this neck of the woods.


Debbie's dessert.


The dish that inspired this blog.

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In conclusion, if my words inspire a visit, plan ahead to save cash. We organized the trip several months in advance; even so, the best Air B&B’s were almost booked. Center mezzanine tickets are less costly, but they sell must faster than other tickets in their price range. Babbo and ABC Cocino insist on reservations made (and be precise!) 30 days in advance.

Recipe: Shredded Brussels Sprouts with Manchego and Marcona Almonds


  • 1/2 cup grape seed or canola oil
  • 1 large shallot; thinly sliced and separated into rings with fingers (1/2 cup)
  • 3 tablespoons Spanish olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon sherry wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon maple syrup
  • 1 pound (about 14 large) Brussels sprouts (note the larger ones are easier to work with)
  • 1/2 cup roasted Marcona almonds, chopped
  • 1/4 pound Manchego cheese, shaved with a vegetable peeler
  • 4 dozen crostini or other sturdy cracker, if using salad as an appetizer


  1. In a small sauté pan, heat oil until a bit of shallot sizzles when tested. Fry shallots until golden brown about 7 minutes, stirring occasionally. Monitor often to ensure they don’t burn. Drain on paper towels; reserve. (May be made several hours in advance.)
  2. In a large bowl, make a vinaigrette by combining oil, vinegar and syrup.
  3. Trim ends of Brussels sprouts. Using a a very sharp knife, shave sprouts as thinly as possible to one 16th of an inch. Remove large core pieces. You should have about 4 cups.
  4. Toss shaved sprouts with vinaigrette and season with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper. (Keep in mind the cheese will add additional sodium when it is added.) This may be made up to 3 hours in advance, refrigerated.
  5. When ready to serve, toss with almonds and shaved cheese. Spoon over crostini, if using as an appetizer, and garnish with reserved fried shallots. Or divide onto small plates if using as a salad.

Preparation time: 45 minute(s)

Number of servings (yield): 4 cups of salad or (apx.) 3 dozen crostini

Copyright © Peggy Lampman’s dinnerFeed.

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