Candied Bacon

We all know the food groups that were part of our learning as we were growing up.  Vegetables and Fruit, Grains and Cereals, Protein, Milk and Dairy and Sugars and Fats.  No where in that learning did we cover the sixth and barely known food group… Bacon.  People of the world…wake up!  Bacon is not a new discovery, but it has become an important part of our daily lives.  Well, unless you don’t eat meat, I guess.   It’s everywhere now.  There is bacon and maple donuts, bacon chocolate, bacon flavored gum, bacon cupcakes. Need I say more?  I have said all along it should be its own food group.   I think you too will agree with me once you try this little gem of a recipe I found in Food & Wine.

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Candied Bacon.  I made it for Super Bowl and it was gone in minutes.  It’s like food crack.  You can’t stop eating it.  Sweet and savory, salty and crisp…it’s addictive.   It might not be the healthiest thing to eat, but let’s face it, this isn’t something you’re going to eat every day.  (although I really could).  It’s super easy and one of those dishes that once you make it,  everyone wants to know how you did it.

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Trust me on this one….  Bacon and easy to make.  You can’t go wrong with this.

People of the world!  I give you Candied Bacon!

Candid Bacon

MAKE AHEAD: The candied bacon can be made earlier in the day. Store at room temperature.
Course Appetizer
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes
Servings 20 Strips

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons chile powder
  • 20 slices thick-cut bacon 1 1/2 pounds

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Line 2 rimmed baking sheets with foil.

  2. In a small bowl, whisk the brown sugar with the chile powder.

  3. Arrange the bacon strips on the foil and coat the tops with the chile sugar

  4. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until caramelized and almost crisp.

  5. Transfer the bacon to a rack set over a sheet of foil to cool completely. Serve.

A New Squash Appreciation

When I was a little girl and was given squash for dinner, I had a couple of different ideas on how to handle this undesirable vegetable.  None of them included eating it.  I either dropped it on the floor for the dog to eat, left it on my plate until it was much to cold to eat or my favorite was to mix it with cranberry sauce and pretend I was eating peanut butter and jelly.  I said it was my favorite idea, just not a good tasting one.

Over the years, I tried in vain to acquire a taste for it.  I would think I liked the way it was prepared but when I ate it or tried to make it myself it had that same appeal that it had when I was a child.  I felt I would never grow to like squash, in any form.

Lately, however, I have been venturing out and a desire for different types of squash is burning.  I have had it pan-fried in hash and roasted in soups.  When I was at the market the other day, I went totally out of the box and picked up a spaghetti squash.  I didn’t even know how I was going to prepare it, but I knew I was going to do something!

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Imagine the odds when a couple of days later I came across this recipe from Half Baked Harvest’s blog for Roasted Garlic Spaghetti Squash Lasagna Boats.  I immediately went out, bought my ingredients and prepared my version of her recipe.

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I was totally amazed!  This had everything I loved about lasagna but was made with squash.  Could it be?  Could I actually have found a squash that I really loved?  I think the answer was a big yes.  I can’t really call this a healthy meal because of the cheese in it, but I do have to say it’s slightly better than eating a dish of lasagna.  Squash versus pasta equals a healthy alternative, so we have a partial win with this one.

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To make this easier if you’re in a pinch you can always use your favorite jarred sauce and for the cheese sauce, just layer parmesan and mozzarella cheese as you would in the traditional recipe.  If you do have the time however, go all out and do it as the recipe states.  It is so worth it.

Take it from a former squash hater.  This is one recipe you’ll keep!

Changes in Life

Life Changes.   None of us want them because I think we all hate change.  If it’s a good life change, we’ll take it begrudgingly, but if it’s something that’s scary or undesirable, we avoid it like the plague.  Perhaps that is why so many of us cling to what we know and what is comfortable.

I am one of those people.  I get comfortable and want to stay with what I know.  Even if it makes me unhappy.  I sit and think how different life could be if I would just try something new, but it’s scary so I stay where I am.  Sometimes, however, you get a kick in the butt that forces you to make that change and you go with your heels dug in…. and then you realize that it was something you should have done so much sooner.   Yes, that’s me.  Kicking and fighting and holding on to the door jam until my knuckles turn blue.  And that is where the story begins.

To start with, I feel like it’s been a long time since I’ve written anything.  It’s only been a couple of months but when you stop doing what you love, it can seem like forever.  I stopped for several reasons.  It was a time of drudgery and unhappiness and I couldn’t wrap my mind around anything that gave me pleasure.  I was trying to figure out life’s destiny due in part to the untimely death of my brother, due in part to the fact I didn’t want to get up and do what I had done for the last sixteen years….mortgages.  Life wasn’t fun anymore.

My bosses talked to me…they were worried.  My friends and family talked to me.  I talked to myself.  I decided after several conversations and long bouts of thinking that I was going to make a HUGE change and leave my “I knew where I was going everyday” job.  I was going to concentrate on my blog and so the next change was to redo everything to make it more exciting and fun to look at. I went to a food writing seminar and hung out with chefs and other foodie writers and thought I was super cool.  But then I added in food safety courses and menus and decided to take on the catering business.  At this point I am sure my husband thought I had lost my mind and for the first few days I was almost in agreement with him.  But as time wore on and I was doing what I loved and I didn’t have the stress of my job any longer…I realized this was a dream come true and yes, why hadn’t I done this years ago?

But just as you think everything is going right with the world,  along comes another change that slaps you upside the head and wakes you up.  Out of state and only one day into our mini vacation, my husband has a heart attack.  Luckily for both of us, with fortuitous timing and excellent care, everything turned out well with no damage to the heart.  But what a wake up call for both of us!

We had to take a look at our lifestyle, our way of eating and what we were eating.  It was time for another change.  We realized how lucky we were to receive this “second chance” and made the choice to eat smaller portions, heart healthy meals, exercise and even cut down on the wine that we love to enjoy.  Some of it has been easy, and some of it has been a kicking and screaming change.

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One of the fun things is discovering foods that are good for you and still amazingly good to eat.  The day of the heart attack we had eaten that morning at the bed and breakfast we were staying at and they had been so nice to share their granola recipe with me that I had enjoyed with my yogurt.  It was one of the first things I made for my husband to make a change to his breakfast.

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Sometimes changes are good and sometimes not so good.  But it’s all about how we deal with them and how we embrace that change.  I for one am loving life right now and hope that it keeps being as exciting as it’s been the last couple of months.  And I hope you stick with me…together we’ll embrace the storm.

 

Almond Coconut Granola

Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Total Time 25 minutes
Servings 6 cups

Ingredients

  • 3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 1 cup sliced almonds
  • 1 bag (6 ounces) frozen coconut
  • 1/2 cup flaxseed
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 Tablespoons butter
  • 1/4 cup coconut oil
  • 6 Tablespoons honey
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 cup mixed dried fruits I used dried cherries, blueberries, apricots and banana chips

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

  2. Stir together oats, almonds, coconut, flaxseed, and salt.

  3. Melt butter, oil and honey and cinnamon over low heat.

  4. Pour liquid mixture over oat mixture until well combined.

  5. Spread granola evenly in a large rimmed baking sheet.

  6. Bake at 325 degrees F for 15 minutes or until golden brown, stirring halfway through the baking process.

  7. Cool granola in pan on wire rack and stir in dried fruits.

The Best Meatloaf

Meatloaf.  We all have our favorites.  The funny thing is our favorite is typically the one we make ourselves.  If someone makes a meatloaf, it’s always the best and you can’t tell them any different.  I have to include myself in that segment of the population.  My husband and I each have our own meatloaf recipe and of course we each think ours, individually,  is the best.

Until last night that is.  We have thrown away our respective recipes and we now have the best meatloaf recipe.  Ev-VER-rrrrr!  Well, in our own humble opinion, that is.

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Meatloaf is as subjective a topic as a macaroni and cheese recipe.  We all have that recipe that our mom made, one that has passed down through the generations, or even one that we have created ourselves based on what we like and don’t like to add in.  There is not one recipe that is exactly the same as someone else’s.  Meatloaf is a personal odyssey of originality and taste, a symphony of meats, cheeses and vegetables.  That is why we all love it and we all love the one we make ourselves.

This particular recipe, adapted from a show I saw on the Food Network, was in a category of the best eaten comfort foods. The meatloaf had been selected by Ina Garten  from Tavern 1770..  Since it was meatloaf it seemed almost mandatory that I make my own personal stamp on it, and so I did.

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Although my husband thoroughly coated his with a layer of ketchup, we both agreed that this was the best we had ever made or had.  I will, however, have to be understanding of the fact you may not agree with our opinion..  You may not even want to try this recipe because you might still hold on to the fact that yours is the best….and perhaps it is.  But I would challenge you to give this a try….just for something different.  It’s full of flavor, moist and hearty all at the same time. And,  I can assure you, that while you may not think it’s the “best” in your home,  you will still want to keep it as a really good back-up.

Be forewarned, the next time someone asks me if I have a good recipe for meatloaf, I am going to say yes.  Yes, I actually do have the best meatloaf recipe.

The Best Meatloaf

Course Entree
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour
Total Time 1 hour 20 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 pound ground veal (preferably naturally raised)
  • 1 pound ground pork (preferably naturally raised)
  • 1 pound ground beef (preferably naturally raised)
  • 1 Tablespoon chopped fresh chives, plus 1 teaspoon for the sauce
  • 1 Tablespoon chopped fresh fresh thyme, plus 1 teaspoon for the sauce
  • 1 Tablespoon chopped fresh Italian parsley, plus 1 teaspoon for the sauce
  • 3 large eggs (preferably organic)
  • 1 1/3 cups finely ground Panko
  • 2/3 cup whole milk I used goat's milk
  • 2 Tablespoons kosher salt
  • 1 Tablespoon freshly ground pepper
  • 4 cloves roasted garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 Tablespoons grated Pecorino Romano cheese
  • Olive oil
  • 2 stalks celery finely diced
  • 1 large onion, finely diced
  • 2 cups chicken or beef stock
  • 8-10 roasted garlic cloves
  • 3 Tablespoons butter, at room temperature

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

  2. Place the veal, pork, beef, chives, thyme, parsley, eggs, Panko, milk, roasted garlic, Pecorino Romano, salt and pepper in a large mixing bowl.

  3. Heat a medium sauté pan over medium-high heat and film it with extra virgin olive oil. When the oil is hot, add the celery and onion to the pan and cook, stirring until softened. When the mixture is cooled, add it to the other ingredients in the mixing bowl.

  4. Using clean hands, mix the ingredients until well combined and everything is evenly distributed. Place a piece of parchment paper on a sheet pan with sides at least 1 1/2 inches high.

  5. Place the meat on the sheet pan and pat it and punch it down to reduce any air pockets. Shape the meat into a loaf (about 14 1/2 inches long, 5 inches wide and 2 inches high.)

  6. Place the sheet pan in the oven and bake 40 to 50 minutes or until a meat thermometer indicates an internal temperature of 155 to 160 degrees. Remove the meatloaf from the oven and let rest for 10 minutes.

  7. Meanwhile for the sauce, combine the broth, roasted garlic cloves and butter over medium-high heat and simmer for about 10 to 15 minutes, or until lightly thickened. Add 1 teaspoon each of the chopped chives, parsley and thyme.

  8. Slice the meatloaf and place pieces in the sauce for 3 to 4 minutes. Place on serving plates and top with sauce.

What’s in the Pantry?

Let’s face it.  There are always going to be those times where you just don’t feel you can find another minute to get things done.  For the last two weeks, it seems I did not have any time at all.  I had been overwhelmed with baking (cheesecakes for a friend), taking a continuing education course for my profession (it certainly would have helped if I had not waited until the last-minute), food judging for the area home shows and the list goes on and on.

The other night I came home and my husband asked me what was for dinner.  I just looked at him, probably like a deer in headlights.  I hadn’t even considered dinner and now it was already late.  I didn’t want to go back out to the grocery store, so we had to figure out something.  That’s when operation pantry surprise went into action.

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We have always kept something in the pantry we can work with.  You never know if there would be people collecting for a food drive or the electricity is going to go out.  I took a look in the pantry to see how my creative juices were going to flow.  I had soup, noodles, canned chicken and a jar of roasted vegetables.  The creativity started to flow.

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I was able to put together a meal that was easy, fairly quick and satisfying for the family.  The next time you don’t have time, but you have hungry eyes waiting for you to feed them, don’t order a pizza.  Look in your pantry and see what you can find.  I’ll bet it will be something good.

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The Best Chocolate Chip Cookies

If we all had one thing from our past that we all agreed was a favorite, I would have to guess that it would be warm chocolate chip cookies just pulled from the oven.  Add to that, a cold glass of milk and that chewy, gooey cookie was the only thing that seemed to make homework tolerable when I would walk in the door from school.

As the years went on, I made chocolate chip cookies for college roommates, my husband and finally my children and the cycle continued.  Well, okay….I really didn’t make them that often but when I did they still loved them like I had when I was their age.

Like most people, I always used the Toll-House recipe on the back of the chocolate chip bag.  I mean, what other recipe was there?  However, I have to say over the last few years I haven’t thought they were very good.  I’m not sure if it was me or the recipe, but they just didn’t taste the same.

It was time to change tradition.

As luck would have it, I was watching the Food Channel one Saturday morning and there it was on the show “The Best Thing I Ever Made.”  Chef Elizabeth Falkner was making Chocolate Chip Cookies and calling them the best ones ever.  Yes, you and I both know what happened next.  I made them.

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They were the Best Chocolate Chip Cookies ….EVER!

The edges were crisp and the inside chewy.  They were gooey and easy to make and so good I wouldn’t change a thing about this recipe.  It does seem a bit sacrilegious to say, but I will never go back to Toll-House again.

Trust me. Ditch the bag of chocolate chips and try these.  It’s worth the break in tradition.

The Best Chocolate Chip Cookies

Course Dessert
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes
Servings 3 dozen

Ingredients

  • 8 Tablespoons butter, softened but still cool
  • 3/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup plus 1 Tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 1/4 cups plus 3 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped the size of chocolate chips
  • 3/4 cup chopped walnuts or pecans (optional)

Instructions

  1. In a large bowl, using a wooden spoon, cream together the butter and brown and granulated sugars until smooth but not over mixed. (If you opt to use a stand mixer, beat on medium speed for 1 to 2 minutes) Add the egg, vanilla and salt and stir just until combined.

  2. Sift in the flour, baking soda and baking powder and stir gently just until combined. Add the chocolate and nuts if using and stir just until evenly distributed throughout the dough. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

  3. Position the racks in the upper third and lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

  4. Scoop up 1-inch balls of the dough with a spoon for mini scoop and set them 2 inches apart on the prepared pans. Bake the cookies, rotating the pans after 7 to 9 minutes, for 13 to 17 minutes until the cookies are golden brown. If you like very soft cookies, bake them for 13 minutes. If you like your cookies crisp, bake them for 17 minutes. Transfer to a rack and let cool. These cookies are best the day they are baked, but they will keep in an airtight container or cookie jar for up to 4 days. If they last that long.

Gluten-free Blueberry Muffins

A lot of my friends have asked me to do something that is gluten-free.  I postponed it for the longest time because I wasn’t even sure how to begin with the process.  I had heard the baking time was different and you had to calculate the measurements…which would have been impossible with my math skills.  But in all honesty, I had not researched what actually had to be done.

I was reading through my Thomas Keller cookbook and in it he stated for gluten-free you should use Cup for Cup flour.  I put that in the back of my brain thinking I would look into it later, but I had honestly just forgotten about it.  A couple of weeks later,  I was speaking to a friend of mine at work who must eat gluten-free and she mentioned it, and the fact that it was a little pricey and that I could find it at Williams Sonoma.  One of my favorite stores ever, so of course I had to go and check it out.

I won’t say it wasn’t pricey, because it was, but the ease of the measurements was just like it said.  Cup for Cup. I used Ina Garten’s Blueberry Muffin recipe because since I was changing the gluten part  I wanted a recipe I could trust. The streusel was my little addition, just because I like a little crunch.  I did have to cook slightly longer, but that might have been just gluten-free awkwardness on my part, because the extra time was minimal.

I did think the texture was a bit different, but the taste was still there and that is what really matters.  So for all you gluten-free fans out there, try this recipe.  I think you will like it.

Gluten-Free Blueberry Muffins

Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 25 minutes
Total Time 40 minutes
Servings 24 muffins

Ingredients

  • 3 1/2 cups CUP FOR CUP flour
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 4 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups buttermilk, shaken
  • 1/4 pound unsalted butter, melted and cooled 1 stick
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons grated lemon zest (I actually added 1 tablespoon because I like more of the lemon flavor)
  • 2 extra large eggs, slightly beaten
  • 2 cups fresh blueberries (2 half pints)
  • 2 Tablespoons CUP FOR CUP flour
  • 5 Tablespoons white sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 Tablespoons butter, diced

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line muffin tins with paper liners.

  2. Sift the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt into a large bowl and mix together. In a separate bowl, mix together the buttermilk, butter, lemon zest and eggs. Make a hole in the center of the dry ingredients and pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients. Mix with a fork just until blended. Fold the blueberries into the batter. Don’t overmix! With a standard 2 1/4 inch ice cream scoop or large spoon, scoop the batter into the prepared cups, filling them almost full.

  3. Combine 2 tablespoons flour, 5 tablespoons sugar and ground cinnamon in a small bowl. Cut in 2 tablespoons butter with a pastry blender or fork until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Sprinkle over batter in muffin cups.

  4. Bake the muffins for 25 minutes, until golden brown.

Mini Blueberry Pies

I’ve never made pie crust.  Ever.  I was the girl who would buy it in the grocery store, unroll it and bake.   My mom always made good pie crust.  Everyone loved her pies because the crust was always good and flakey. I just never learned.

I don’t know what made me decide to try it after all these years but I thought I finally would.  I wanted to make these little mini pies that looked so cute….but I needed to learn crust in order to do so.  Crust was my nemesis.

I thought I was going to lose this challenge.  It was almost an epic fail.   However, to my surprise, mixing the crust turned out to be the easy part.  It went together so effortlessly and it appeared to turn out as the instructions directed.  However, when I went to roll it out, it was like the crust was fighting back.  It was sticking to everything!  The cutting board, the granite, the rolling-pin, my hands…!Perhaps I was afraid to use too much flour or perhaps it didn’t go together as well as I thought….  whatever the reason, it got to the point I wanted to trash everything and quit.  I almost cried.

I’m so glad I didn’t.

This being my first time in making the crust, it wasn’t pretty.  I really thought it was going to taste like a big handful of flour. But it didn’t. The texture and the flavor were just like I had hoped.  Flakey and light, not tough and thick like I expected.   I know I have a lot more to learn with making a perfect crust, but in the end I’m glad I challenged myself.   Perhaps it was a little difficult, but certainly not as hard or as scary as I thought it was going to be.

What did I learn from this?  Don’t be afraid to use flour, and don’t give up.  It might not turn out exactly like you had hoped but nothing ever does the first time.  Practice makes perfect and I hope there will be a lot more practice with this recipe.  I loved it and everyone else did too.

Mini Blueberry Pies

Prep Time 2 hours 30 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Total Time 2 hours 50 minutes
Servings 16 small pies

Ingredients

Blueberry Filling

  • 2 cups fresh blueberries
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 Tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 lemon
  • 1/2 fresh vanilla pod

Pie Crust

  • 3 2/3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 cups plus 3 Tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/2" cubes, frozen (3 sticks)
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • raw sugar

Instructions

Blueberry Compote

  1. In a saucepan over low heat, add about one-third of the blueberries, the sugar and juice of 1 lemon. Reserve the remaining blueberries. Using the back of a knife, scrape out the vanilla seeds and add the seeds and pod to the saucepan. Stir and continue to cook until the blueberries break down and the compote has a syrupy consistency, 5 to 10 minutes.

  2. Create an ice bath by placing a mixing bowl into a larger bowl filled with ice. Pour the compote into a strainer over the mixing bowl. Use a rubber spatula to help work the compote through the strainer. Let the compote cool until it's cold to the touch.

  3. Once the blueberry compote has cooled, add the compote to the remaining blueberries and gently mix together to create your pie filling.

Pie crust

  1. Pulse flour, sugar, and salt in a food processor to combine. Add butter, pulse until mixture resembles coarse cornmeal (no big pieces of butter should remain.) With motor running, slowly drizzle 1/2 cup ice water through feed tube. Pulse until dough just begins to come together.

  2. Divide dough in half. Form each half into a ball, flatten into disks. Wrap each disk tightly in plastic. Chill for at least 2 hours.

  3. DO AHEAD: Dough can be made 2 days ahead. Keep chilled. Let stand at room temperature for 15 minutes to soften slightly before rolling out.

  4. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper, set aside. Working with one disk at a time, roll out dough on a lightly floured surface until very thin, about 1/16th inch thick. Using a circular cutter, cut out into 16 circles.

  5. Brush edges of 8 circles with beaten egg. Place 1 heaping tablespoon filling in center of each egg washed circle. Top with remaining circles to form 8 pies. Using a fork, crimp 1/4" around edges to seal. If desired use cookie cutter to clean edges. Repeat with remaining dough, egg and filling.

  6. Divide pies between prepared sheets, chill for 45 minutes. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Working with 1 baking sheet of pies at a time, score dough, forming a small X int he center of each pie. Brush tops with beaten egg and sprinkle with raw sugar.

  7. Bake pies until crust is golden brown and filling bubbles out of X's, 17-20 minutes. Let cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes, transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely. Repeat with remaining baking sheet of pies.

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