The Down and Dirty of Putting Up Pesto (a no-recipe recipe)

Every year I make a big batch of pesto and freeze it.  I’ve just come down from an agonizing month of final run edits for my 3rd novel, and don’t have it in me to measure ingredients. And I sure as hell won’t go the traditional way of concocting this herbaceous bliss by blending my ingredients in a mortar and pestle (hence, the name).

Labor Day weekend is allowing me time to spend a few hours putting up pesto, insuring a bad winter day will be brightened by this taste-of-summer treat. So the clock’s ticking and I’m moving fast.

A bridal bouquet of basil. Oh, the fragrance–my aromatherapy preference!

At the farmers market today, I purchased six huge bunches of fresh basil. (My tiny plot failed because of Michigan’s cold and rainy spring.) After trimming the leaves from the stems, and washing the leaves twice, I pureéd them in my processor with lots and lots of extra virgin olive oil. (All told, I used a quart of Trader Joe’s Greek Kalamata extra virgin olive oil. Of course, a good Italian or Spanish oil is fine, too.)

I’ve a mish-mash of assorted nuts, mostly pine nuts (my favorite for pestos), but I wanted to use up the stragglers. Soooo, I fattened up the pile of pine nuts with almonds and pecans and toasted the lot in a dry pan to enhance their innate nuttiness. After that, into the food processor they went. I pulsed the batch several times to ensure they were finely chopped, but not overly so.

The basil/evo purée, chopped nuts, Reggiano and sauteéd garlic–– all ready to be combined to taste!

In that same nut pan, I sautéed halved buds from two fat cloves of garlic in EVO until fragrant. Most recipes use raw garlic but, of late, I prefer removing their bite and enhancing their sweetness with a bit of heat. Process the cloves with the oil and pour into a bowl.

All that’s left is the Parmesan, and this is where I splurge. You can find loads of cello-wrapped American-made wedges of Parmesan in USA grocery stores everywhere, and they’re less than half the price of true Parmesan. But the flavor is incomparable and doesn’t hold a candle to the real stuff. It makes or breaks a pesto, at least for this girl, so it’s worth it.  Two-plus pounds of stamped (that seal of authenticity) grated Parmigiano Reggiano did the job.

I also like having frozen pesto cubes to add as last-minute seasonings to winter soups and paninis.

Each ingredient has its own bowl and––not wanting one ingredient to overtake another––I mix them all to taste, adding kosher salt, at the end, to taste. Voila–I’ve twelve snack-sized  baggies stuffed with pesto. Better yet, omit the disposable plastics and use Tupperware &/or ice cube trays. I also used a mini cube tray, which makes it easy to add a last minute flavor bomb to cold-weather soups, such as minestrone.

See me doing the happy dance come February, when my book is released and I can thaw a bag of summer goodness to add to a dish of pasta!

Speaking of, the cover and title of the novel will be revealed in October, and the publication date is set for February 5th. You readers will be the first to know everything, and I’ll put you at the top of the list for my advanced reader copy giveaways (beginning in October) for the book.

If you want a bona-fide recipe for pesto, click here.  I wrote the recipe for the newspaper ten years ago, almost to the day. The recipe takes a deeper dive into the world of magnificent pestos!

Happy Labor Day!


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Apple-Hickory Smoked Chicken

Two fat birds ready to be smoked!

This morning I woke up from a nightmare. I was the cooking wench for the House of Stark in their ancestral castle of Winterfell, located in Westeros, the northernmost province of the Seven Kingdoms.

I had just pulled these birds from the pit as winter fell, promising to linger for many, many years.

Yes, indeed. The weather is a persistent theme in THE GAME OF THRONES, as it’s been the refrain in Michigan. This year, us

Marinate the chickens.

Woverines stayed bundled up well into Spring and then torrential rains hit our state, flooding shorelines and damaging crops: “Great Lakes water levels at precipice of a disaster,” says The Weather Channel.

But that was yesterday. Hopefully, a bad dream. Today, the weather is dry, the sun is shining and I await my family, excited to spend a few days with my brood. Right now I’m sitting beside my long time pal and confidant, the BIG GREEN EGG, who is looking forward to lots of action this summer.

I’d rather be looking at you (-:

This is a recipe (aka: Beer Can Chicken or Drunken Chicken) I’ve made dozens of times. It’s perfect for feeding ten or so folks (depending on the size of your birds) and leftovers make incredible chicken sandwiches. However, because of the special equipment needed (Beer Can apparatus and Smoker) I’ve never blogged about it.

Any old can filled with water works fine!

Through the years, I’ve taught, dozens–maybe even hundreds–of cooking classes to audiences. I loved it! It was great seeing the groups reaction to my methods while answering questions and then passing out samples of food.

But this time I’ll be talking to my iPhone. How lonely it will be not to see your faces.  Soon enough, I’ll have to adapt to the latest technology that will enable all of your faces to be on my screen.

Apple and hickory chips for chicken.

I’m wondering if technology will ever advance to the place where I can hack off a piece of chicken and present it to you via my hard drive? I wouldn’t be surprised.

But in the meantime, I’d love to extend an invitation to you to join the Blue Sky Book Chat.

By the way, I’ve found it a waste to squander perfectly good cans of beer when smoking these birds. I’ve tried it, and to my palate, it really didn’t enhance their flavor. Between the marinade, rub and smoke there’s enough going on.

The Cheat.

However, I love the technique of smoking the birds upright having the interior steamed by hot water in any old can. It seems to keep the birds moist. If you’d like to smoke chickens using this technique, this apparatus appears to be a good one. (The one I use is obsolete.)

Time saving trick: When hurried, I marinate birds in a bottled dressing and use a pre-made rub. Not as wonderful as homemade, but pretty dang good. That said, a rub is a wonderful vehicle for using up less-than-fresh spices!

Recipe: Hickory-Apple Smoked Chicken


  • 2 cups marinade/vinaigrette (bottled dressing fine)
  • 2 Freezer Gallon-Sized Ziplock bags or large container
  • 2 (5-6 pound) chickens, giblets removed and saved for another use. Rinse birds. (OK if birds are larger; just adjust ingredients and smoke longer)
  • 1/4 cup, or more as needed, of rub (see below notes to make your own; commercial rubs fine)
  • Hardwood charcoal, as needed
  • 3-4 cups wood chips (I used a combo of apple and hickory)
  • 2, 12 ounce, cans of beer; half the liquid poured out and used to soak chips (See my notes above. These days I just use water.)
  • Beer Can Chicken Holder (see above link to purchase and below notes to do without.)
  • Smoker (I use a Big Green Egg)


  1. Pour one cup each of marinade into two freezer gallon-sized Ziplock bags. (You may also marinate in a container large enough to accommodate the chickens.)
  2. Marinate, refrigerated, 24-48 hours, turning birds every 12 hours.
  3. Remove from marinade, pat birds dry, and sprinkle rub all over each bird with seasoning mixture, and then gently rub it in with your fingertips. Don’t forget to rub under the skin. Refrigerate an additional 3-6 hours.
  4. Soak two cups of wood chips in water for an hour. Remove birds from fridge and let sit at room temperature 30 minutes or so. Prepare charcoal grill/smoker to a low, slow, even heat: 225-250 degrees. (Coals will be thickly ashed over. You should be able to hold the palm of your hand over them for a solid 12 seconds.)
  5. Fill 2 empty (12 ounce) cans 3/4 way full of water. (Season the water with additional rub, if desired.) Place cans in “beer can apparatus” (see above notes and pics.) Place the cavity of bird over beer can and tuck wing tips into the chickens back in the crease of the thigh.
  6. Place beer can apparatus on the center of prepared grill/smoker. Toss wood chips in between the grill grates, shaking off as much water as possible before tossing. Cover grill.
  7. Monitor grill temp to insure it maintains a steady, 225-250 temperature. Adjust air flow accordingly. After one hour, you may need to add additional coals. Using my Egg filled half-way with coals, I’ve never had to add more. However, my chickens seem to temp to the desired 175 degrees in 80 minutes, more or less. (The best way to gauge readiness is by using an instant-read thermometer. Insert it into the thickest part of the thigh, avoiding the bone. Thigh meat should be enjoyed at 180 degrees, but it continues to cook an extra 5 degrees when removed from the grill. Don’t have a thermometer? If the drumstick wiggles easily at the joint, it’s likely ready. Take care not to overcook the chicken.)
  8. For a splashy presentation, you can serve to your guests atop the beer cans. but I refrain. I worry a can might topple, spilling the hot water. After five minutes at room temperature, using tongs, I carefully remove cans from birds. (Note that the water inside the cans is very hot and could scorch you.) I allow the chicken rest at room temperature an additional 10 minutes before carving or quartering to serve.

*It’s not essential to have an apparatus to hold the beer can in place but it makes the birds far more stable. To do without, hold the chicken with the opening of the body cavity at the bottom. Lower it onto the beer can so the can fits into the cavity. Adjust the legs so the bird balances on the grill when smoking. *Make your own rub by combining 4 tablespoons each of brown sugar, sweet paprika, black pepper and Kosher salt. Then, stir in a tablespoon or garlic or onion powder. After that, I take a look at my spice rack and see if there are misc. herbs (Italian or Southwest family) to use up. I add a couple of teaspoons of those to the mix.

Marinate time: 24-48 hours

Rub sit time: 4-6 hours

Smoke time: Apx. 80 minutes, depending on the size of your chickens and interior smoke temperature. Monitor carefully.

Number of servings (yield): 8-12 SERVINGS, depending on appetites and the size of the birds.

Copyright © Peggy Lampman’s dinnerFeed.

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Brooklyn & Manhattan: A Savory Rendezvous!

Alison and I met in an author chat room 2 years ago.

Last week, I was hosting a discussion in a chat room—Blue Sky Book Chat––about friendships and communities formed on-line. This was in the wake of a four-day food and book mash-up in Manhattan and Brooklyn with my son, Zan, and friend, Alison Ragsdale.

I met Alison–a Scot’s lass who has written several books set in her home country–two years back in a Facebook author chat room. We both were astounded that we shared so many common interests, and our friendship blossomed on-line.

Striped Bass over Lobster at THE GRAMMERCY TAVERN.

For me–perhaps for you, as well– prior to joining Facebook in 2008, the concept of forging friendships on the internet was foreign. To be honest, even a bit creepy. had been founded nine years prior to Facebook, so (and this is solely my experience) meeting people on-line was synonymous with hookups and dating. A wonderful source if you’re single and searching, but the internet seemed dicey for simply finding pals with common interests.

The Queen of Manhattan Indies is Strand Bookstore. Zoom into this pic to see the books banned back in the day.

Whatever your feelings (or lack of) about social media, Facebook was a game changer for me. I’ve met hundreds of people on-line, particularly on this blog, who share my interests. Manhattan and Brooklyn—with their plethora of Indie bookstores and restaurants– were the perfect playgrounds for Alison and me to meet and romp.

We stayed at The Marlton in West Village, which once housed such notables as Edna St. Vincent Millay and Lillian Gish, who “cooked tinned things and tea” using a sterno lamp in her room in 1913. Jack Kerouac wrote a couple of novellas while holed up at the Marlton and Lenny Bruce stayed there during his six-month trial for obscenity in 1964.

Renovated in 2012, even today, it retains an off-beat vibe and their tiny jewel-box rooms and included breakfasts are exceptional. I spent Halloween, 2014, there with several friends and it was such a blast, I’ll  never stay anywhere else.  (See this post for details on that little adventure.)

Spoonbill and Sugartown Booksellers.

Another bonus about the hotel (I’m not getting a kickback) is  some great Indie Bookstores (Strand Bookstore, Printed Matter), the Chelsea Market and seriously fabulous restaurants are all within walking distance.

As if the West Village weren’t enough of a feast, one day we Ubered into Brooklyn. One could spend hours perusing shops in the Williamsburg area of Bedford Avenue alone. We loved Spoonbill and Sugartown Booksellers, specializing in used and rare books.  We continued down and around the bend to enjoy  drinks at William Vale Hotel (their view from the rooftop bar is unparalleled) and dinner at Oxomoco, where tacos are not just a taco. (see their menu).

Breakfast Option at the Marlton

Such a fabulous get-away but it was manna to return to relatively sleepy little Ann Arbor and my hubby, chirping birds the only sound to break our silence.

Want a taste of books, chatter and friendships forged on-line? Alison and I extend an invite for you to join our group in Blue Sky Book Chat. In celebration of a recent re-brand, all the authors will be giving away a ton of books and swag through June.

You don’t have to buy a plane ticket, just meet us online. Your sofa will do just fine! As always, happy to answer any questions about our trip or the chat room.

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