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.
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.
Trust me on this one…. Bacon and easy to make. You can’t go wrong with this.
When it comes to the standard way of making things, or trying something new, my husband and I are typically at odds. For Peter, lobster has to be served steamed in a shell, shrimp can be with a cocktail sauce or in scampi. You can’t have pizza with goat cheese and you certainly can’t have pea soup without green peas. Until now that is, because I live by a different set of rules.
Let me just give you a little background on this. I grew up with pea soup. It was always a staple when we had leftover ham. It was green and thick and not very appetizing. So it was a huge mistake on my part, when I mentioned after our ham dinner, the idea of making soup. It turns out, much to my dismay, that he loved pea soup.
Well, I half-thought about it and when I was at the market, I picked up a bag of split peas. Peter would be so surprised if I actually made this for him. But visions flashed before me of the thick green paste and I immediately scrubbed that idea and threw the peas back on the shelf. I started to walk away and out of the corner of my eyes I saw a bag with split yellow peas. That’s right….YELLOW peas. I never had them before, but after looking at the back of the bag and the recipe idea it gave, I thought I could make it work. It was a good compromise.
That weekend, since it was cold and definitely feeling like a soup day, I decided to give it a try. I cooked my ham bone down and reserved the broth and although I did refer to the bag recipe, I did change the recipe quite a bit to make it more my style. This was working!
The flavor was really good and the texture of the broth was more like a vegetable broth. I was so happy because I thought his was something I could eat and Peter would love that we had split pea soup. I really believed this was our soup of compromise.
Until my husband sat down to dinner that is. He took a bite and it wasn’t so bad. He took another bite and it was ok. The third bite, he decided to tell me that pea soup was meant to be green and mushy. This simply was NOT going to do.
So once again we were at odds. I loved it and he did not. He wanted his green thick mush and I liked the texture more like a broth. And it’s okay. It’s okay if he doesn’t like it, because he doesn’t have to love everything I make and he has his standards. But I will probably make it again and he will probably eat it again and complain again. And have another two helpings again.
Do you really have two helpings if you don’t like something?
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!
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.
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.
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!
There are always those times when you want something easy but a bit more than a soup and sandwich. Maybe it’s mid-week busy night or a Saturday evening with friends. And of course it has to turn out right every time.
In conjunction with my last post this Crispy Chicken Thigh recipe from Bon Appétit goes very well with the Farro Risotto. I have made this chicken several times and it comes out perfect every time. If you aren’t confident in the kitchen you can still pull this off looking like a pro and the flavors will make everyone think you spent all day in the kitchen.
The sauce is interchangeable. If you don’t want it as sweet, use a tart apple and add more mustard. It is really all about what you like. Just have fun with it. You can start with the basics of what I’ve given you and make it your own. This is the reason I love cooking so much.
Have fun and invite friends over. Let them think you worked all day. Share what you love because this is what it is all about.
6skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs about 2 1/4 pounds
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
Heat apple cider over medium high heat and cook for approximately 20 minutes or until reduced by half and thickened. Set aside to cool.
Preheat oven to 475 degrees F. Season chicken wit salt and pepper. Heat oil in a 12″ cast-iron or heavy nonstick skillet over high heat until hot but not smoking. Nestle chicken in skillet, skin side down, and cook 2 minutes. Reduce heat to medium high; continue cooking skin side down, occasionally rearranging chicken thighs and rotating pan to evenly distribute heat, until fat renders and skin is golden brown, about 12 minutes.
Transfer skillet to oven and cook 13 minutes. Flip chicken; continue cooking until skin crisps and meat is cooked through, about 5 minutes longer. Transfer to a plate; let rest 5 minutes before serving.
In the meantime, combine 2 Tablespoons of the apple cider (reserve remainder for another use), 2/3 cup apple jelly, Dijon mustard, apple brandy and grated ginger in a saucepot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium low and let simmer for about 10-15 minutes.
I love this time of year. I’m ready after the humid, muggy summer to breathe in some fresh crisp air. I long for my sweaters and log fires to warm the evenings. With the falling leaves comes the desire of using the abundance of fall flavors such as sage, pumpkins, squash and apples.
Did I mention I love fall?
I’m obsessed with apples right now. I brought several different types of apples home with me the other day from the market, preparing for an all out apple fest. I dove in, ready to conquer the sweet to the savory. The only thing I was missing was the road side apple cider stand.
So I have my apples, I love the fall and now I have to do something with all of it. Well, that’s easy. I decided to make this combination of a couple of recipes I had seen… it was everything the autumn season is all about. Farro Risotto with Apples, Squash, Kale and Sage. My husband is loving me so much right now. This meal is on his diet plan since it’s fairly healthy, but it’s also got flavor, texture and comfort, and it doesn’t taste like it’s a diet plan.
I paired this with crispy chicken thighs and an apple cider gravy which will be coming in my next post, but for now try this out. It’s in the top ten of my husband’s all time favorites, so I think you will like it.
Put on a sweater and fill your belly with the taste of fall. It’s a yum on the food meter!
Toss squash with 1 Tablespoon olive oil and cook for approximately 7-10 minutes or until squash starts to brown. Remove and set aside.
Soak the farro in cold water to cover for 20-30 minutes. Drain and combine with the chicken stock in a medium heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat, then cover and reduce the heat to the farro is bubbling gently; cook until just tender, 15-20 minutes. Drain the farro over a bowl so that you can reserve the cooking liquid and set both aside in a warm place.
In the same saucepan, cook bacon until mostly crisp. Add butter and oil and melt slightly and then add shallots, and garlic and cook about 3 more minutes or until fragrant.
Pour in the wine and turn up the heat a little and simmer until the wine has reduced by about two-thirds, another 5 minutes or so.
Add the faro, the apples, and squash and enough of the reserved chicken stock to get a slightly creamy consistency.
Add the kale, sage leaves and more Parmesan and/or salt if necessary and several grinds of black pepper.
Serve immediately or cover and reheat gently before serving, adding more liquid if necessary.
There comes a point in time when I am tired of the summer weather. I know many of you won't agree with me but I long for sweaters and fires and cozy comfort. That is probably one reason why I decided I needed to ignore the 75 degree weather in the beginning of October and make some soup.
I love soup. It takes me back to those childhood days of tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches my mom would make me. It was soup out of a can but it still gave you the warmth and cozy home feeling after the chill of the autumn air.
I had seen this soup recipe in our local newspaper and of course I couldn't leave it alone...I had to put my own spin on it. I am so glad I did because as we were sitting around the table in our shorts and flip-flops, my husband said to me that if we weren't already married, after eating this soup he would have married me! How is that for a testimonial on how good this was?
This is super easy to make so even on a busy day, you can have this for your family dinner. A salad and some crusty bread will make it a complete meal.
Cold weather will be here soon and I will be making this again. Heavy socks, a warm sweater and a bowl of this soup will take me back to my mom's kitchen. I don't know about you, but it doesn't get any better than that.
There are all forms of entertaining. Of course there are the big parties, dinners and events. There are also smaller and more intimate settings when you have another couple over or it’s a special dinner just for the two of you. You plan, you do the shopping, the preparation and then hope everyone oohs and ahhs. It’s validation for the work and time you put into it and you go to sleep thinking everything was worth all the effort. But have you ever thought of putting that same effort into a dinner for one?
What do people do when they eat alone? I know when I was single and just starting out, dinner usually consisted of a bowl of cereal or a bag of popcorn. I never thought of making an effort for myself. I’m going to assume that a lot of single people have the same way of looking at things as I do. We just do whatever is the easiest.
Tonight however, I changed my mind about things. My husband was going to play cards with the guys and I was going to be alone for the evening. In the past I would have eaten something I could just grab. Not that there is anything wrong with a bowl of cereal or grabbing what ever is in the refrigerator at the moment, but I decided with the lifestyle changes we are making in our home I should make the effort and do the same for myself as I would anyone else that would be eating dinner in my home. I was going to make myself a real dinner.
I was inspired by a recipe in Bon Appétit that sounded so good, but my husband wasn’t as excited about this meal as I was. It calls for adding lobster to pasta. What was I thinking? Doing something with it other than boil it and dip it in butter? It was the perfect opportunity to try this…and I’m so glad I did! Not only was this very tasty, it was also relatively easy. The lobster was still tender and sweet with a nice spicy complement from the pasta and sauce.
You could of course do this meal for your guests and still get the oohs and ahhs. They won’t know how easy it was or that most of it could be done in advance. Or you could wait until that one night when you’re sitting all alone and don’t want a bag of popcorn for dinner. Pour yourself a glass of wine and enjoy your own company. It’s worth the oohs and ahhs you’re going to give yourself.
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.
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.
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.
I cannot believe it is New Year’s Day 2014. How fast this last month has flown! To be honest I have to say that I am so glad this holiday is over and even more glad we are on to a bigger and better year. So many things to think about, some good and some not so good.
Have you ever received one of those letters over the holidays that tell you how great the year has been and how many achievements the family has had? I will tell you that I didn’t send out any letters like that this year. My position as a mortgage lender was not nearly as successful as it has been in the past, financially it has been more of a struggle and I have had to realize that my children have their own lives and don’t need me like they used to. And of course there was the devastating loss of my beloved brother Will in October. The holidays were something I always looked forward to so I needed to do something that would help bring the happiness back into our home.
My husband and I had decided the end of November that we were going to have one of those Ugly Sweater Parties. I planned, I shopped, and I systematically made food for two weeks so I would be ready and enjoy the party. I was however, unprepared for how fast all the food was going to disappear! I take it as a compliment that they ate everything so quickly but for the first two hours of the party I was a lunatic replenishing platters so that there wouldn’t be hungry, drinking people wandering around. Note to self: cook more food up front and keep warm in the oven.
The party, despite my poor food serving planning was great fun and a complete success. I know this will have to become an annual event.. At this point, I do want to mention my friend Marlene Charbonneau. Here was a woman I befriended on Facebook because I liked that she baked and wrote. I never met her but ordered some of her beautiful cookies for the party. They were so amazing, so beautiful and so yummy that I have to give her a shout out. She truly is my friend and I want everyone to know that her cookies are absolutely the best!
This is where I have to learn I sometimes cannot do it all. During the planning of the party, I got a call from a friend who needed help with her husband’s work party. Unfortunately my husband and I were leaving that day to travel to New York to visit his daughter and then to pick up my mom and bring her back for Christmas. But then we talked about getting all the food ready and bringing it over the night before we left….and I said yes. So the day after our party, I shopped for the food and spent the next three days making food, writing instructions and packaging the food to take over and then left the following morning for five days out-of-town. To those of you who may be crazy like me, I have to warn you to reconsider when you think you can do it all. Especially when you also have a day job like I have! It was so chaotic that it was only now I realized that I haven’t posted since the beginning of December. You can never be so busy that you put aside the things you love to do and that for me is sharing my highs and lows in the kitchen with you. New Year’s resolution number one is to never stop doing what I love.
Anyway, we managed to get through the month. There was sadness over the holidays knowing that my brother and Dad wouldn’t be there to share but happy in the fact that my mom and my children were there with my husband and I. It’s true what they say…you shouldn’t be worried about what is under the tree, but be happy with who is around the tree. Now it is the new year and a time for reflection and hope for the coming months.
I’ve written this blog for a year now, the end of this month. I cannot tell you the joy that it’s brought to me and I hope that somehow I have brought a bit of joy, knowledge, new recipes or something to you. I want to thank you all for your support and following me and I hope you will continue to as I make my way through 2014. Tell me what you would like to hear about, what you love and what you don’t. I will continue share no matter what but without all of you I cannot grow and I want to let you know how important your support is to me.
I know it’s going to be a better year for all of us. 2014 will be a great year and I can’t wait to find out what the future is going to bring!
The fourth annual “Don’t Let your Meatloaf” party happened in my neighborhood this past weekend. It was the first time my husband and I had been invited to the event and I was terribly excited about going. A party geared towards cooking something? Right up my alley.
The rule was no garlic. Not sure the hows and whys of where this rule came about but I followed it. I was not going to be disqualified because of a rule like that…I was in it to win it! I had a meatloaf recipe that was pretty good, but this had to be the best. After all, I was going to write about the party and brag how much everyone loved my meatloaf. I practiced, I added and I tweaked. This was going to be amazing!
The time of the party arrived and I thought my meatloaf looked beautiful. I was very proud. First mistake of the evening…I didn’t try it. We arrived at the home of Judy and Steve and pictures were taken. The rules were explained to us on how to vote. Wow…this was really serious! Second mistake of the evening….I thought it was really serious. It was time to taste and vote but judging the meatloaves was proving to be a challenge because each award needed to be voted on individually and there were a lot of meatloaves! Vote first for best looking meatloaf and then go back through the line and flag all the bites taken and taste test. Third mistake of the evening….I thought I could win.
As instructed, we had to pick a first place winner, second place and third place, one for best looking and one for worst, all separate categories. Little did I know then how important this could be. We ate, we drank, we tallied, we drank, we turned our votes in and we drank some more. The waiting began for the results. (It’s very important to note at this time that everyone drank.)
The bell rang and the winners were announced. The first award given was for the worst tasting meatloaf. I wasn’t even paying attention…after all there was no way I was going to be in this category. I wasn’t paying attention…..until they called my name! WHAT?!?!?!?! They called my name…. the one who writes and cooks and shares my recipes received the worst tasting meatloaf?! Holy smokes…what just happened?! I think I might have died a little at that moment. All I could do was smile and accept my award with grace and as much dignity as I possibly could in such a boisterous crowd. (remember, I mentioned earlier everyone drank…I want to believe that may have influenced the voting!)
I do want to mention that they showed me the final results on the voting and I was actually one vote shy of tieing for first. I also placed in the second, and third category. That did help with the ego factor a bit, but I was still labeled the worst! But then I got to thinking, everyone messes up now and then, everyone makes something that someone doesn’t like….even professional chefs don’t always get it right. Right? Empowered with that knowledge, I realized that I could go on with life, despite a flawed entry, and my husband and I continued to have an extremely fun evening with a great group of people. I had the will and determination to make another meatloaf, and another 364 days to practice at it!
So just wait until next year’s “Don’t Let Your Meatloaf” party…. I’ll be ready for the big comeback. Just you wait!
THE WINNING MEATLOAF RECIPE by Lynn Fortunato Hodges!
2 lbs ground chuck mixed with two cans of Rotel (drained). Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes. Cover 1/2 of a large flour tortilla with sour cream and chive mashed potatoes. Slice meatloaf and place 4 slices on top of the potatoes. Sprinkle with a mixture of shredded Mexican cheese and frozen corn. Top each slice of meatloaf with another spoonful of mashed potatoes. Fold over the other half of the tortilla and place in a heated frypan with olive oil. Brown each side of the quesadilla. Serve with salsa and jalapeno as garnish.