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!

 

 

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.

 

 

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.

 

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.

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.

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.

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